Barb Harwood, photos
My son spent last weekend at a freshman college retreat and was quite upset that he had to listen to yet another Christian speaker talk about how “the church isn’t doing anything.” In fact, according to my son, this particular speaker faulted churches for spending more money on missions conferences than on actually doing missions. Yet isn’t it ironic that this critique is coming from none other than a conference speaker?
My son said that the speaker’s closing remarks included the child’s finger play game, “Here is the church, here is the steeple.” Only this speaker changed it to, “Here are the doors, where is the church?” A dramatic soundbite, maybe, but I see it as a cheap shot, and certainly not biblical. I’m sure all the students in the crowd who are involved in ministries were really encouraged and edified. Not!
The apostle Paul is our example of how to disperse criticism. And I certainly wish I’d studied his model in the past in dealing with my own differences with church. But maybe because I’ve been there, I know that this conference speaker is off base. The Bible tells us “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Not that we aren’t to have discernment, concern and constructive criticisms. The verse itself says we are to think about whatever is true, and that can involve some confrontation. Paul, however, in addressing his listeners and churches, always starts out with a praise or edification. Nobody wants to feel constantly beat upon, especially if they already are “doing something” (which the conference speaker has no way of knowing. Often, a speaker or author will assume their audience is doing nothing, or that the audience is doing all the work and everyone “out there” is doing nothing. Again, these “experts” have no way of knowing what everyone “out there” is doing).
So, before his corrective teachings, Paul first says something positive to build up and encourage, and only after that does he explain where the churches are in error. He follows that, in turn, with instruction on the specific changes that need to be made going forward. Again, many authors and speakers on the circuit today shoot off about the church not being “authentic” or “radical” or “relevant,” but never give an answer as to how to be that way. In fact, they often say we need to be in a “conversation” to figure it all out. Well, the conversation has been going on for several years now and these authors and speakers continue to claim, “Nothing’s being done.” Maybe the “conversation” approach is the problem, not the church.
The second point is that, if a person critiques a church based on works that meet their personal definition of works, the church will often look like it isn’t doing anything simply because it isn’t doing what that particular person considers works! Jesus, in John 6:29 says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” The church as Jesus commissioned it is to preach the Gospel. Acts 4:18-19 says, “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
In studying this, I looked to “A Biblical Theology of the New Testament” by Roy B. Zuck, where author Darrell Bock states, “So the new community saw herself as called to obey God by continuing to preach the message of Jesus to the people…Peter noted that the new community will obey God, not man…The church considered it an honor to be able to share the message and asked for boldness to do the job” (see Acts 4:29.)
In Luke, the church is to be a witness as well: “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (24:45-47).
Jesus commissioned His church to be a believing church and to share the way to that belief with others so that they, too, can receive the gift of new life here and in heaven (and from someone who is about to go in for a biopsy, the notion of some that we focus too much on heaven is, I believe, also not biblical. Even thinking that I may have cancer, as small of a chance as it is, makes me incredibly grateful for the hope and reality of heaven. I know people whose fear of death—especially as they age--has them caught in despair. Don’t we want to give them the scissors that will cut them loose from that chain of despair?).
Yet many in the church today don’t find the reading, teaching and sharing of the Gospel, along with prayer and witness, as worthy. But everyone who claims the name of Jesus Christ needs to go back and see that belief in Jesus and His Word is not relegated to one random, remote page of Scripture, never to be mentioned again! Nor is the sharing of the Gospel. It’s all right there throughout and is, in fact, part and parcel of loving one’s neighbor.
With that, I lift up the following members of the Body of Christ to show that indeed, the church is doing something!! May looking at what people are already doing encourage us to get involved if we aren’t already!
A Lutheran High School Graduate of the Class of 1998 is “leaving her position at Pella Corporation in Pella, IA to train with Youth With a Mission.” YWAM’s stated purpose is to “know God and to make Him known,” and includes short-term evangelistic missionary journeys, educational training, church planting, business as mission and relief and development services.
Another LHS Graduate, Class of 2009, spent four weeks in Uruguay as a missionary for Campus Crusade for Christ, and has been involved with the Madison chapter the last two years. She helped build a campus ministry in Montevideo.
Southside Alliance Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin has the following outreach: “Forgiven and Set Free” confidential Bible Study for those seeking healing from an abortion; Faith-in-Action Sunday with a focus on “Going to Church to Being the Church;” several home groups focusing on building Godly relationships; and a recovery ministry and archery ministry, both open to the public. SSA includes a Ministry Start-Up form on their website, which implies that anyone with an idea can get started!
First Baptist Church in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, is holding a fundraising banquet for the Alpha Women’s Center in Milwaukee. Alpha Women’s Center is a crisis pregnancy center offering counseling and abortion alternatives, along with parenting support and programs. Faith Baptist Church in Plymouth, Wisconsin is also one of its supporters and recently delivered diapers and other baby supplies to the center.
Third Christian Reformed Church of Denver, Colorado sent an adult team to Mexico in April, and supports missionaries in Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Nigeria and Cambodia. Their local outreach includes working with the Khmer Christian Reformed Church in nearby Aurora. The website says, “The Cambodian ministry is bringing the Good News of God's Word to our Cambodian neighbors in the Denver area. The Khmer CRC ministers to an average of 80 adults who faithfully attend each Sunday with their children.” There is also a Cambodian Teen Youth Ministry that meets every Thursday evening. Third Christian Reformed also partners with the Sun Valley Community Church, where “the ministry is shaped by a neighborhood consisting of primarily single-parent families with few financial resources. Our vision is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution to life's challenges, while demonstrating our care and concern. Our ministry at Sun Valley is through pastoral support, gifts of food, clothing, and support of their tutoring program. Sun Valley Church is a place of worship for this community.” This is just a partial list of all of the things Third Christian is involved in.
The Presbyterian Reformed Church of Charlotte, North Carolina is involved with Bible distribution and translation; African Bible College in Uganda; Voice of the Martyrs—a non-profit interdenominational Christian organization dedicated to assisting the persecuted church worldwide; a church plant in Italy; support of a church in Malawi and two students at Knox Seminary in Uganda.
Central Baptist Church in Victoria, British Columbia, which I attended while on vacation, supports missionaries in Sudan, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Argentina, South Africa and the Philippines. In their community of Victoria, they do the following outreach: hold a monthly free hot breakfast; offer free ESL classes in conjunction with the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Center Society; and send volunteers from church to go into the near-by elementary school weekly to help students learn to read.
“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” John 20:21