Growing up, my family and I would gather around the television on Monday nights to watch a CBS show, MASH. It was a comedy/drama about an US Army mobile surgical unit, 4077. There was one character that caught my interest, Major Sidney Freedman, played by the late Allan Arbus. He wasn’t a stickler for military formalities and many of the officers just referred to him as “Sidney” or “Sid”. His rank didn’t mean much to him, but his profession meant everything to him. He was a psychiatrist and an ear for people to share their inner thoughts.
The reason I found his character so remarkably interesting was because he observed people and looked beyond the physical and saw the people for who they really were. Some would have a veneer of strength while deep down inside they were scared like the rest. Sidney would see each person as a person regardless of how they carried themselves.
My favorite episodes with Sidney involved him writing letters. He wasn’t writing his family or putting together a report. He wrote to another psychiatrist, Dr. Sigmund Freud. The odd part about this correspondence was that Dr. Freud had died quite some time before the Korean War, the backdrop for the television series. Although this may seem odd to many, I found it a great way of voicing some of my thoughts and ultimately resolving some of my own internal issues.
I have written letters in my own journal to different people and explained to them my dilemmas and what my possible solutions were. I would explain them to them and somewhere along the process work out my final direction and resolve my issue. Talking things over with a historical character who is an expert in a particular field or study somehow works or, at least, it works for me.
When it comes to churches, I have often had discussions with the Apostle Paul. You may think that I’m crazy for doing so, but if you read his letters and understand his life, a lot can be derived from both and provide advice in getting through life and how to deal with others in a church. In short, you can say that I learned everything about life and my faith through Paul’s example and words. I’m not saying that I choose him over Jesus, but, rather, feel a connection to him as a fellow pastor and a mentor.
As I look at today's churches, I find myself grieving over the state of affairs in each. Some churches remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus and remain truly devoted to God. While others seem to have evolved or, I think a better way of saying it, de-evolved in social clubs and cafes. For example, I received an advertisement in the mail for a church that advertised that it “proudly serves Starbucks coffee”. When a church advertises more of the treats they serve rather than let people know that they worship God, there is something seriously wrong.
As I began to have a chat with Paul about the state of affairs, I also realized that he, too, had a similar situation going on in the church in Corinth. When you take a look at the history of that church, you can easily see that there were a lot of things at play that caused the church to falter. In fact, Paul had to visit the church three times due to issues inside the church. As you continue to read passages in both of his letters to the church and the passages in Acts, you not only see issues but also see that there were attacks made on Paul himself.
But, the one thing that Paul points out is the failure of the members of the church to give up their earthly ways. In one breath, they say that they are Christians and in the next breath, they continue living their sinful lives.
In chapter twelve of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “Some of you admit I was not a burden to you. But others still think I was sneaky and took advantage of you by trickery. But how? Did any of the men I sent to you take advantage of you? When I urged Titus to visit you and sent our other brother with him, did Titus take advantage of you? No! For we have the same spirit and walk in each other’s steps, doing things the same way. Perhaps you think we’re saying these things just to defend ourselves. No, we tell you this as Christ’s servants, and with God as our witness. Everything we do, dear friends, is to strengthen you. For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. Yes, I am afraid that when I come again, God will humble me in your presence. And I will be grieved because many of you have not given up your old sins. You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.”
Members of the church thought that Paul took advantage of them. Some of the more powerful personalities in the church were using their influence to sway other members into believing things that were contrary to the teachings of Jesus and Paul.
Look closely at what Paul called out as things going on in the church. Selfishness, slander, sexual immorality and “eagerness for lustful pleasure” seemed to permeate the church. Paul, upon hearing this, had to do something and so he changed his travel plans to go to the church a third time. This was the nature of this church. I’m sure that the church had people who truly remained faithful to God, but they may have felt that they were the minority and felt powerless to do anything.
When a church starts to go down this path, the faithful members need to stand up and call out the sin in the church and work to remove it. This isn’t done out of spite or malice; it is done out of love for God and the church. Sometimes, a big dose of tough love is needed to cause people to wake up and realize the error of their ways. Once that occurs, repentance and restoration can take place and begin the healing and reconciliation processes to occur.
In my many years of serving the Lord, I have seen a lot of things that have shaken churches to their very foundations. These types of events that cause sin to flourish in a church don’t happen overnight. It is a slow and insidious process. I often think of it as rot and termites. At first you don’t see anything, but when you pull the facia away, you see the damage. Both have eaten away on the inside and just let the veneer remain. The only way to truly see what is going on in our churches is to be brave enough to pull the facia away and examine the insides. Once you begin to look closely, you and the rest of the body of believers can work to rebuild the church and remove the rot and decay that has taken hold.
So, I say this to each of you, “Be strong and be brave. Stand up for faith and fight the good fight.”
When you do that, you can truly stand firm in His grace and, like Paul, remove the rot and decay that has claimed your church. Don’t let strong personalities sway you as you and your fellow believers work to restore the church back to being the House of the Lord.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.