Who the Church Hurt
The church of the living God is a safe haven for sinners and all who are in need of salvation. It is the only community within which spiritual growth is possible. The church remains God’s only agency through which he establishes his kingdom on earth. Jesus himself said that ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’. In as much as the church was established by ‘the’ perfect God, the individuals in the church are not perfect (just yet). One of the major reasons why the church was instituted was for the perfection of the saints. Therefore, not all in the church are at the same spot on their journey to perfection – hence none is perfect. This fact, is the reason why there are so many flaws in the body of Christ. So many people have been offended by the church and this is the theme that this blog post seeks to explore.
The Holy Spirit drew my attention to this some time ago. How offenses are causing many to leave the church in droves. I have personally been offended by the ‘church’ before. I have had friends who have experienced this as well. And quite painfully, even members of my family have experienced this too. In my case, I felt so bad after the incidence. It was a series of events that happened behind the scenes and climaxed in the full glare of a section of the church. Therefore, unbeknownst to the many who witnessed my outburst, there had been a series of events that had led up to that embarrassing one. So I felt I was be judged wrongly based on the final event and perhaps I would have been judged fairly, if people knew the full story. To this day … to this day I still feel like bringing it up in conversations so I can tell the full story and sort of vindicate myself. That only goes to prove how deeply I was hurt and how much effect that incidence had on me.
How are people hurt in the church?
As I mentioned earlier the people you find in your church are not flawless people. They are people undergoing the process of perfection. The bible talks extensively about the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5. If we all bore this fruit, there would be none offended in our midst. Christians would be too kind to intentionally offend their brethren. Again, Christians would be too patient to react in anger when they have been hurt by their brethren unintentionally or even intentionally. Love would reign in the church. Basically, this is God’s plan for the body.
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” – John 13:35
Love is patient, love is kind … love is not arrogant or rude… (1st Corinthians 13)
Imagine a church where we all bore the fruit of the spirit, hence walked in love and perfection. What a lovely community that would be! I believe eventually we will get there as a church. However, that isn’t the case today. People offend intentionally and unintentionally. Others are offended way too easily and others, hardly. Below are a couple of ways that people are offended in the church today:
• The doctrine of the church and church traditions (practices)
• Misunderstandings or disagreements
• Verbal and physical abuse
• Discrimination and favoritism
• Lack of appreciation of efforts
These are only a number of ways that people are offended in the church. Whatever hurt you feel after having any of these experiences is valid. How you react to these things is what really matters. One may wonder if there are any traces of ‘Church hurt’ in scripture. The truth is that there are and we are going to take a look at some of these instances where the church offended individuals and in another case where there was a misunderstanding between 2 Christian leaders.
The first story is recorded in Acts 6:1-2. It is very important to note that this incidence happened in the church in the book of Acts which happens to be one of the most respected churches in church history. It turns out that when the church began to grow, the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews who were members of the church) complained about how the Hebrews had neglected their widows in the daily distribution of food. This is a very fair complaint. One can easily tell that the Hellenists were offended or hurt by this issue that is why they made it a point to register their displeasure to the appropriate quarters. What was the response of the leadership of the church? We are told in the subsequent verses that the 12 Apostles summoned the entire congregation and addressed the issue. They stated that it is not right that they (the apostles) should give up preaching and praying to serve tables so they would rather appoint seven people who were filled with the Holy Ghost and with wisdom to do that. Among this seven people was Stephen – the first ever Christian martyr. There are a few things we need to note in this story:
• When the Hellenists registered their displeasure, the leadership of the church was ready to listen and make amends. They didn’t regard it as coup attempt or as a disrespectful act against their leadership.
• The caliber of people selected to serve tables goes to show that the leadership of the church took the complaint of the Hellenists very seriously. They specifically selected people who were filled with the Spirit of God and with wisdom to serve tables. Someone may argue that this caliber of people are qualified enough to hold leadership positions in the church. And that may be true, however, the apostles saw the wisdom in the complaint made and decided to have some of the best Christians in the church to take charge of the situation.
• We were made to understand that this problem arose because the church was growing. Well we were also told (in verse 7) that the church grew even more when the problem was resolved. Therefore, we can conclude that some of the issues in the church that bother congregants or offend them, when properly addressed and dealt with may lead to growth and stability in the church.
The second story can also be found in Acts 15 – it is the story of how Paul and Barnabas had a falling out. Prior to this incident, we were told that Paul and Barnabas had traveled from city to city spreading the Gospel. In Acts 15:36 Paul suggested to Barnabas that they should return to all the cities they had been to to check up on their brethren there. From all indications, Barnabas agreed. He only wanted to go on this mission with John Mark. Paul didn’t want to go with John because on one of their trips with him to Pamphylia, John left Paul and Silas at a point. The bible says ‘ a sharp disagreement’ arose between Paul and Barnabas hence they had to part ways. Barnabas went to Cyprus with John Mark and Paul chose Silas to travel with him through Syria and Cilicia. This is how the two men of God dealt with their sharp disagreement. It may have affected their relationship but it didn’t affect their relationship with God and his work.
What do you do when the church hurts you?
In the list I made above concerning how people are offended in and by the church, I mentioned discrimination, church practices or traditions and misunderstanding. All these can be found in the two stories above. The Hellenists were offended because it appeared the church was discriminating against widows; this was a practice in the church. Then in the case of Paul and Barnabas, we are told a sharp disagreement or misunderstanding arose between them. We can learn a lot from how these two groups of people reacted to the events.
The Hellenists registered their displeasure to the leadership of the house. This is one of the major ways of dealing with offenses in the church. The leadership of the house should practice an open-door and listening-ear policy. It is worthy of note that the Hellenists didn’t go about gossiping and spreading both truths and lies about the incident. They spoke to the leadership of the house. The reaction of the Hellenists and the attitude of the leadership of the house exhibited in their desire to cause a change should very much be encouraged in the church. Indeed, toes will be stepped on in every church no matter what. However, pragmatic steps need to be taken to heal the wounded. Did you notice the apostles didn’t want to appear as super human beings by adding the serving of tables to their own duties and responsibilities in the church? They appointed others to do that. This is pragmatism. Such problems require the application of the wisdom of God.
Secondly, when Paul and Barnabas couldn’t see eye to eye because of their differences, none of them abandoned their ministries. Often, people stop going to church at all because they were offended by someone or something in a particular local church they were in. In my opinion, nothing should separate us from the assembly of the saints. Anything that does that is an idol we pay obeisance to and revere more than God. And yes, holding grudges and refusing to forgive can very much be idols in the life of a believer. We need to know that God’s work must go on no matter what. If it means parting ways with some people or a church, then so be it. Because in my own opinion, some people need to leave the churches they are in to actually pursue what God has set for them. In the instance where your church’s doctrine and practices are not biblical, I suggest you reach out to the leadership of the church, if your suggestion is not heeded to you can and should leave. The bible in the new testament warns us not to entertain people who preach a false gospel.
I have also come to the conclusion that some of us deserve to be offended in the church. For the singular reason that ‘… godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death’ (2 Corinthians 7:10). We fill the need to be pampered and handled with soft hands. ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ flipped tables in the temple and drove some people out of the church. When you are corrected in the church for something you did wrong, you deserve that correction and it is supposed to lead you to salvation. The correction may come across as offensive sometimes – but it is good for you. There were people who were punished by the Apostles in the New Testament and I believe they did so in love because the bible says love doesn’t rejoice at wrong doing. You cannot be offended and walk away from your local church and the body of Christ because you sinned and you were corrected. If the correction was done in love, it was meant to help you repent. The word of God is given to us for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness (2 Tim3:16). Correction in the church is very scriptural. To church leaders, you need to correct in love and not out of anger or malice.
To all who have been offended by the church before (either by a man of God or a fellow believer) do take heart. Let this not hinder you from pursuing your God-given purpose on this earth. The pain, grief, guilt … they shall all pass. We should pray to God to give us strength to move on. Also pray to God and ask him to direct your path so you can get over the hurt and do that which he expects you to do. Be gracious in your actions and reactions after the incidence. Bear in mind that you could have easily been the offender in another situation. As Andy Mineo said ‘I hope they give me the forgiveness they are going to need one day’. I also hope you give the brethren the mercy you will need one day.