A few weeks ago I found myself at a meeting in the church. Everything was going fine: we were praying, talking, taking prayer requests, offering our personal experiences, and sharing ideas about what the Lord was doing in our lives. All of the sudden something happened. An argument sprung up over how the voting of new officers should be done. Women were yelling, being snippy, acting stubborn, rolling their eyes, accusing one another, and attacking one another. It was out of the blue, and I wasn’t sure how to react.
Now, first let me preface that this church is my first church. I’ve gone to other churches before, yes, but I have never been an active member of the church nor have I been a follower of Christ for more than three years. This has been my only experience of what a church is and what people who belong to Christ do.
With this in mind, imagine my reaction to a mean-spirited argument arising out of a seemingly harmless church meeting. Some (who have perhaps been in the church a little longer) may expect as much, I mean, we are dealing with sinful people here. Some might join in the argument to defend the “Godly” side. Some may simply roll their eyes and begin praying a self-righteous prayer, thanking God that they are not like “those people”. Others may pray an earnest prayer that the Lord would intercede in this disagreement and peace would be restored via Christ’s will alone.
Now, what do you expect my reaction was?
Yep… I started crying. Big fat tears rolled down my face, my cheeks were red, my eyes puffy, my nose running.
Imagine a group of women arguing, then the youngest, whitest, newest member starts balling her eyes out like a little baby. I was extremely embarrassed to say the least. I ran into the bathroom with two other members trailing worriedly behind, the rest left in dismay, no doubt discussing what might have set off the new girl.
Between heaving sobs and behind the bathroom stall door, I explained in rather childish terms, what had made me so upset.
“I just (sob sob sob) don’t understand (snif sniff) why people of God (cry cry cry) are so (sniff sniff) mean to each other (uncontrollable sobbing)!”
Dramatic and laughable (and I do invite you to laugh at me as well!) as it is now, this rather mortifying experience taught me something very valuable. The church is not perfect.
Gasp! It’s not?!
I know. It’s taken me a while to digest as well.
Before this moment, and even a while afterwards, I had been under the impression that other people were either good or they were bad. I found this manifesting in the way I read the Bible as well. Stories like the book of Esther confused me. Is Esther good or is she bad? She presumably sleeps with a man before being married to him and she lies about her heritage until her people are being killed. She doesn’t sound like a super admirable gal, but God does use her to help save His people.
This “imperfection” is is way more than just the book of Esther too. David, after being declared a man after God’s heart, steals another man’s wife, gets her knocked up, then kills her hubby by putting him in the front line of battle. What the heck Dave!? And Solomon, the love child of David and Bathsheba, decided to leave his beautiful wife to go build temples to other gods for his millions of concubines. Even Jesus’ apostles do some pretty stupid petty stuff. So, my question is, how are these people the people of God? Shouldn’t these people be better than that?
My mentality was the same for people in my church. Why are they being so mean? Aren’t they here because of the Lord? If Christ is the leader of their life, why are they speaking to one another so disrespectfully? Shouldn’t these people be better than this?
The answer is yes, they should be better than that, but they aren’t.
And it’s not just them. I also should be better than I am, but I’m not. This answer seems oddly simple: we are, as humans, imperfect. We are not good. We are sinful.
Romans 7:15-20 says it best: “I do not understand what I do... For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing...”
Keep in mind, this is Paul, arguably one of the most Christ-like examples in the New Testament besides Christ himself. If even he does not do the good he knows he wants to do, and he is extremely Christ-like, then how can I expect my fellow church members to be perfect at doing good?
This is not to say that we just allow people to do whatever they want, speak harshly, and live sinfully. By no means! But when sin happens, because believe God, it will happen, we need to respond as people who understand that only Christ is perfect. This allows us to be forgiving and merciful to those who disappoint us or leave us in dismay, and it also exalts the name of Jesus, His power, and His utter goodness.
To expect this kind of perfection from anyone else but Jesus takes away from God’s role in our lives, and it also leaves us continuously disheartened and dissatisfied in other people.
As you can see from my tearful reaction not but a few weeks ago, I am still learning this lesson each and everyday, especially since I have now become a member of a church. The Church is beautiful and I love mine, but we must not fool ourselves into thinking a group of sinful people will be perfect and holy simply because they gather in the name of Christ. Guard your hearts, have realistic expectations of people, and understand that Christ is the ONLY one who is good.