A while back, someone asked me why it’s so hard to find a church that doesn’t lose itself in drama and arguments. You’d think that there would never be any trouble within a group that proclaims peace, and also claims to have the most reason for happiness. Actually, though, I’ve heard (and even seen) that Christians can be very petty. In fact, if I can be honest, I’ve been one of those Christians before.
It would seem that something doesn’t add up. Let me see if I can clear up some of this. I’ll start off by saying that Christianity was never meant for perfect people. It especially wasn’t meant for people who thought they were perfect. It was meant for people who know they are imperfect. In fact, the Jewish religious leaders saw themselves as perfect, and many of them hated Jesus. There was a belief among them that those who truly represent God would obviously stay away from the “dirty sinners.”
“Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.'” – Mark 2:15-17, NLT
Jesus was well-known for hanging out with the worst kinds of people. Many people see his acceptance of such people and then falsely assume that Jesus tolerated and/or approved of their behavior. But here we see Jesus saying two things about these people:
- They are like sick people who need a doctor. (He wants them to be healthy again.)
- He came because he wanted to call them to something.
This doesn’t seem like tolerance. It doesn’t seem like Jesus approves, but instead recognizes that they have worth. With that worth in mind, Jesus is calling them to live a different life.
Fast-forward a bit (Matthew ch. 10), and we see Jesus sending out the 12 disciples on one of their first ministry trips. Included in the 12 were Levi/Matthew (tax-collector working for the oppressive Roman Empire), Simon “the zealot” (part of a radical Jewish terror group known for assassinating Roman soldiers and officials), James and John–the “sons of thunder” (selfish and quick to violence – see Mark 10:37 and Luke 9:54), and Judas Iscariot (betrayed Jesus and often stole money from Jesus’ ministry – see John 12:6). Even the Apostle Paul was later known for arranging the torture and murder of Christians before Jesus called him.
Stop me if I’m wrong, but these guys don’t look like the stereotypic “good little Christian.” It looks more like Jesus found some imperfect “sick people” who needed a “doctor,” and then called them to live a different life. Not only that, but after Jesus rose from the dead, he left his ministry in the hands of these guys. How do you think that would go?
Now in their defense, I’d like to point out that when Jesus called his disciples to live a different life, they absolutely began to live different lives. Jesus changes people. Look at John, for example. This is the same man who once asked Jesus for permission to call down fire from heaven to burn up those who disagreed with him. After following Jesus for a while, we see him saying things like, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God…for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 NLT)” and, “…since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. (1 John 4:11 NLT).” You can’t tell me that’s not a significant change.
My point is that Jesus focused his ministry on imperfect, messed-up, broken people; he taught us to do ministry the same way.
Fast-forward again to about 20 years after Jesus rose from the dead. Christianity has been spreading–not just with Jews, but with the Greeks as well.
“While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea [Jews] arrived and began to teach the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised as required by the [Jewish] law of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently.” – Acts 15:1-2a NLT
What?? Arguments in the church?
Yes, this is actually one of the first things that the church fought about. One group believed that all new Christians should conform their lives to Jewish culture; the other group believed in diverse unity–that your culture didn’t matter, and that all new Christians would be changed by Jesus at the deepest levels anyway.
One side came from broken thinking, and one side came from the heart of God. For the most part, this is how church fights have looked ever since. Christian ideas still come from the heart of God; there will always be someone who fights against them. Unfortunately though, sometimes people think their ideas are from God, when they are not. And because churches are meant to be places for broken people, broken thought and behavior will sometimes thrive. So it continues. Good fights evil, light fights darkness. Many cultures see this as an eternal battle.
The good part about this (yes, there can be a good part) is that without these debates, it would be difficult to discern what is from God and what is not. For example, if the first church council at Jerusalem had never happened, my life would be significantly different. As someone who is not a Jew, I might not ever be allowed to truly be a Christian. I’m kind of glad someone questioned that thinking. Such discussions help to keep the church accountable to the truth.
The downside I probably don’t have to explain. There are church splits, there are heartbreaks, there is petty and immature behavior, there is self-righteousness, there is hypocrisy, and there is ignorance. These are all signs of imperfect, broken (sometimes completely misguided) people. If we were all perfect, though, we wouldn’t need Jesus, would we? After all, healthy people don’t need a doctor.
Regardless, God is still in control. After over 2,000 years of craziness, Jesus is still alive, and he still changes people. Until Jesus comes back, we have to realize that darkness is still going to be in conflict with the light. As followers of Jesus, it is our responsibility to be able to determine what is truth and what is not. Please don’t take this lightly, and don’t try to do this alone. It’s a difficult, even dangerous task that requires intense study, devotion, faith, and wisdom.
But who ever said that following Jesus would be easy?