Do you ever stop for a minute and look at the Church? I don’t just mean the church you go to or the buildings in which we gather. I’m talking about taking an honest look at the Body of Christ. Is she healthy? Is she well?
It’s not just the global pandemic and its continuing effects that have made us poorly. You’ve probably noticed that in recent months there have been ongoing revelations about poor leadership and abuse from within church communities — some going back decades — that have wobbled many in regard to their faith. Church attendance is said to be declining, with believers divided on many areas of life, doctrine and thought. To those outside the Christian faith, our witness as Christ’s ambassadors looks somewhat tarnished and fractured.
Throughout history, Christianity has been famous for its divisions and splits. The enduring rift between Protestants and Catholics over the centuries has had profound effects. And at the beginning of the 1900s, bitter opposition arose when conservative evangelicals railed against the Salvation Army and the Pentecostal movement. In the USA, polarisation is now seen as a social identity issue, with some Christians viewing those with an opposing political stance as enemies who represent a major threat to their beliefs and values.
We might like to believe that it isn’t that bad in the UK, but issues such as Brexit, mask wearing, coronavirus vaccines and racial injustice have helped produce a divisive picture both inside and outside the Church.
Perhaps it’s time for some God-led deconstruction and introspection, as we acknowledge our own contribution to the brokenness that surrounds us.
Breaking it down
Deconstruction has become ‘one of those words’. Some see it as helpful; a time of reflection that brings greater understanding as to what we — as followers of Jesus — believe, why we believe it, and what the outworking of that belief looks like. Others fear that the process of deconstructing their faith will blow up all they know and leave them far from God. If you search long enough on YouTube, you’ll find many preachers warning against the practice of deconstruction.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, however, ‘deconstruction’ doesn’t actually mean ‘demolition’. It means ‘breaking down’ or ‘analysing something… to discover its true significance.’
Introspection, too, has often been scorned from the pulpit. We are encouraged to avoid looking at ourselves and to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus’ (Hebrews 12:2-3). There is a concern that too much introspection will make us self-absorbed and trapped in our own weaknesses. But if we look again at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ‘introspection’ is described as ‘an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings.’
Without an understanding of why we think the way we do and believe what we believe, our Christian walk will be narrow. Without insight and self-awareness, we risk falling into a pit of ignorance, prejudice, pride, ego, fear or need for control.
Goggles for life
As human beings, we pick up our beliefs and behaviour from the prevailing culture dominating our environment. Our experiences of family — good and bad — all leave a mark and shape our understanding of the world.
The Church, historically, has tended to promote an authoritarian model of leadership. One which emphasises telling us what to believe and how to behave. Our response is to modify our behaviour and do what we can to conform — hoping that, by doing so, we will find a place to belong. It’s possible we might even condemn those who find it hard to do the same, hiding our own faults and flaws behind their more obvious failings.
On the other hand, there are those who reject everything and everyone associated with the Church — sick of its apparent hypocrisy — and throw the baby (Jesus) out with the bath water!
Perhaps we should dismantle some of these approaches to discipleship — turning to Jesus and away from such behaviour for the sake of our spiritual wellbeing and His call to love well.
But we need God’s help to do this.
Along with poems of praise and songs of worship, the book of Psalms is layered with the language of interior searching and examination. The songs are raw, authentic and honest — capturing the emotional spectrum of the psalmist’s life. They give us permission to present our questions, doubts, fears and anger alongside our joy and celebration of God.
Psalm 139 paints a picture of a God who knows and loves us deeply. He sees the good, the bad and the ugly and yet remains fully present to us. And although God knew everything about David, verses 23-24 reveal that David didn’t know everything about himself. So he prayed:
‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You and lead me along the path of everlasting life’ (NLT).
Show me, ‘me’ Lord.
The goal of self-examination is freedom. It takes work. But as we break down our perceived truths and hidden prejudices, we make room for the Holy Spirit to do a renewing work in our hearts.
Doing so enables us to respond by ‘loving one another’ and becoming more like the One who loved us first. This is how He is building His Church.And this is how they will know we are Christians. — By our love.
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what lenses you’ve been using to view life and God’s Word.
Why not pray the prayer of David found in Psalm 139:23-24 and allow God to reveal any wrong perceptions you may have that contribute to division within the Body of Christ?
Lay it down and ask Him to renew your mind and your actions. Ask for a fresh infilling of love and compassion for others.