The Church – enemy of grace?

Grace 101

 

I have spent my adult life serving the Lord through the organized church.  That’s why this post brings me grief.  I am certainly not against the church as Jesus led in the beginning.  In the beginning, the church was the community of grace.  It was where people could come from all kinds of backgrounds and find their unity in Jesus.  Slaves and masters, rich and poor, moral and immoral—all came because of Jesus.  And all were accepted in the same way.

Whoa!  Really?  Well, maybe at first, the very first.  By the time James wrote his letter to the church, the people were already segregating themselves according to social status.  That was about AD 49, according to many scholars who believe that James is the earliest of the letters.  Now, let’s see: if we say that Pentecost happened in AD 30 (that’s about the earliest date suggested), then it took just 19 years for the “community of grace” to become corrupted by fleshly perspectives.

But does that really surprise us?  Wouldn’t we expect that the problems began much earlier than that?  In fact, in Acts 6, just a couple of years after Pentecost at most, there is a division between the Hebrew-speaking Jews and the Greek-speaking Jews.  Divisions between the people of God are nothing new.

It is in the nature of an organization to establish hierarchies, traditions, and standards.  Who gets to lead?  Who gets to participate?  Who fits and who does not?  These are questions organizations almost always ask.  So the manipulations and values of the flesh often prevail.  Grace is pushed aside.

When I suggest that the church is an enemy of grace, I don’t believe that it has to be that way.  That’s just the way things seem to happen most of the time.  Old battles have established boundaries of doctrine and style, perhaps even race or nationality.  It is difficult to welcome those who don’t quite fit.

So when you come with your new joy and enthusiasm because of the message of grace, you shouldn’t be surprised that the church seems a little offended.  After all, the church has been charged with telling the Good News and has decided what that “good news” entails.  Baptism, church membership, service, attendance at worship, certain lifestyle values, tithing, receiving communion—these things may be added because of history and tradition; but the church still considers itself to have the Good News as the core of its message.  When you suggest that these things mean little or nothing to the true message of God’s grace, the church can become defensive.

The trodden path where grace cannot take root is found in many organizations.  The church, of course, but also the mission organization or the homeschool group or the men’s fellowship.  Wherever the organization itself is of more importance than the One who is supposed to lead it, grace will not be very welcome.

Now, please understand.  I continue to serve God through the church and I expect to do so until I die.  Almost all of my friends have been church folks.  We have been greatly loved in the church.  I believe in associating with the people of the church.  And I believe in calling the church back to the pure and simple message of grace.

Just don’t expect to find the grace message broadly embraced by the church or by any other organization.  It is too personal, too radical; no matter how true it is.

4 Comments

Filed under grace, Grace 101, Grace definition

4 responses to “The Church – enemy of grace?

  1. prodigalkatherine

    What you say makes sense because churches are organizations. Organizations that are officially recognized by modern governments typically establish procedures and revenue streams to continue functioning. The fellowship with other believers that we are all called to seek is very much God’s design. Unfortunately, in order for that fellowship to continue happening at a regular place and time, the unfortunate downside of organizational behavior begins to appear. Because the church is composed of fallen and saved individuals, it is both an agent of grace and infinitely corruptible. The church is not an enemy of grace, but the inevitable corrupting influence of organizational behavior is.

    • Notice that I didn’t even start on denominations, which are organizations of organizations. It seems that the flesh is most obvious in these structured relationships. Whether it is comparison, judgment, elitism, or power positioning, organizations give opportunity for the flesh to work. Unfortunately, it isn’t just the unsaved in the church who manifest this. Even those who truly belong to Jesus often find their flesh acting out in these organizations.

      So, you are right, it isn’t the church that’s the problem, at least the church as Jesus set it up. It is the flesh of the people operating within the structure of the church. We are called to meet together, to love each other, but not to compete or be cruel.

      I think the offenses that happen within the church, the rejection and judgment, are particularly painful because they are not supposed to happen. We enter into a church relationship to find support and camaraderie, and feel shocked and betrayed when we are used or rejected.

      Even so, there is true love among the people of God. Just understand that you may have to sort through some stuff to find it. Others need the love we want to share and others have love to give. The love comes from Jesus and flows through us. So, I am in no way suggesting that we abandon the church. Just be prepared for the church system to reject the message of grace. The people, individuals, may respond and be set free.

  2. Repol

    This is so true and it breaks my heart. I was one who came bouncing into the church, so free in grace, and found it waiting with chains of co-dependency and pointless martyrdom and outward appearance idolatry, and every possible segmentation to uphold as what “looks good” to outsiders.
    In John 17, I heard Jesus praying for something totally different. Something so free that the rest of the world would notice how different it was and stop to pay attention, to ask, “What is going on over there?!” And then, upon seeing the true unity in grace, they would know it was GOD in us, and this not of ourselves.
    Where is the Holy Spirit’s true power? I believe in it. I need it to be real. I want the vision God has for the church.

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