Saturday, 20 December 2014

I'm not Asking for Perfection!

I've had many conversations over the last 2 or 3 years that revolved around my experience of abuse in the church and my subsequent disillusionment with that institution.

There have been people who disapproved of me being upset and who therefore assumed that somehow I was the one at fault. Others were distressed that I would even suggest that there was anything wrong in 'their church'. Then there were those who recognised there was something amiss, but didn't want to get involved.

But, interestingly enough, there was one line almost every person produced. "You can't expect the church to be perfect - it's made up of imperfect people."

Now on the surface, this sounds like a true and wise observation. It is true that we are all imperfect, and it is wise not to expect the perfection from such people.

The only trouble is, it was not perfection I was expecting.

It was fruit!

Even a cursory glance at the New Testament will reveal the truth that we are supposed to bear fruit. And that fruit should be in keeping with our source.

Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

So what does this fruit look like?

"...the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."

The early christians were renowned for their love, joy and humility, even in the face of persecution and suffering. People noticed that they were different and wondered why.

Yet these days, particularly in the western world, there seems to be no difference in the behaviour of those in 'the church' compared to those outside it. We all seem to live and behave in exactly the same way. And yet we keep assuring ourselves, and others, that we have a better way to live. We keep selling this idea, and yet proving it's bankruptcy by our failure to live it.

Something is seriously wrong!

We have greater access to more sermons, commentaries and teaching than any generation that has ever lived. And yet we still witness bullying and abuse, power plays and politics in 'the church'.

We're inundated with 'christian' books, conferences and programs, but nothing changes - they seem incapable of effecting the transformation they promise.

We say we follow a God of love, and then we act hatefully towards those who don't comply with our expectations. We say we embrace freedom in Christ, and then want to control our brothers and sisters, insisting they conform to our way of thinking. We say Jesus is the head of the church, and then we program the Holy Spirit right out of our services.

The dissonance between what we say and how we live is overwhelming!

I'm not asking for perfection. I'm asking for fruit in keeping with the Vine. I want our actions to line up with the words we speak, and the promises we make. I want to see in each one of us the proof of a living, redeeming, transformational God.

It was because I believed we had a better way that I stayed so long and fought so hard in an abusive church situation. It was my hope that as each one of us pursued God above all else, we would somehow get through it and become a living testimony to his grace.

In the end, my hope proved futile. It seems we had no better way, no hope, no good news to offer others - just the putrid stench and unbearably bitter taste of our own counterfeit harvest!

Despite all the accusations to the contrary, I don't hate 'the church', and I don't despise my brothers and sisters in the institution.

But I do want the 'better way' we talk about to be manifest in how we live and interact with each other. I want the cry of Jesus's heart - that we be known by our love - to be realised in our midst.

I'm not asking for perfection - I just want to see fruit!

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