When Christian Damages Christian

by Myron Heckman on October 10, 2015
Has the Church Caused Too Much Damage?
by pastor Myron Heckman
You may have been grievously wounded by a fellow believer or by a church fellowship.  That can be one of the most confusing of all wounds. But always stay true to grace.
·         Christians and the church corporately too often have caused damage, whether to discourage non- believers from seeking truth, or believers into lukewarmness.
·         Some are "professors" only, but even "possessors" are still on a path of progress
             and we must guard against an idealism or we will stumble.
·         The promise extended to the thief on the cross by Jesus is the epitome of salvation by grace. It's a lesson to remember for ourselves and for our regard for others.
You've had a problem with a fellow believer, I would assume. Someone judgmental and critical, manipulative, obnoxious, exploitative. And perhaps you've been ashamed of some prominent Christian's words or actions, or of some Church's actions.
One major challenge to faith is the behavior of the people of faith, those who profess faith in Christ, but their lives or personalities or treatment of others don't commend faith - in fact, their behavior may seem to commend no faith.
  It's a factor for people to reject any consideration of faith, or where believers may retreat into their own isolated wound care center - saying it's too risky to be around professing Christians.
 I) The Challenge to Faith
To summarize -  The behavior of Christians influences some unbelievers to reject faith and some believers  to become lukewarm.
Two quotes from unbelievers Timothy Keller cites in his book "The Reason for God" (p 52, the book provides many seed thoughts for the first two points of this message)
"I have to doubt any religion that has so many fanatics and hypocrites. There are so many people who are not religious at all who are more kind and even more moral than many of the Christians I know."
"The church has a history of supporting injustice, of destroying culture. If Christianity is the true religion, how could this be?"
There are two problem areas, as Keller points out in his book (addressed to skeptics):
1) Individual Christian behavior can undermine the credibility of Christian faith. If a person claims to be a follower of Christ yet has behavior that is abusive, vengeful, explosive or immoral, it makes a nonbeliever wonder "Why should I believe Christianity is true?" it doesn't seem to have any life-changing power.
Anyone who has been involved in a church community will before too long see flaws in fellow members. Or they may discover behind the scenes conflict and be caught up in divisiveness. Christian leaders make the news too often for moral failings.
  And at the same time you can find nonbelievers who give every appearance of being upright and kind and considerate.
For others the problem may be an overly rigorous faith practice. Some professing faith like to accost others about the state of their souls with no seeming love for that soul. It can make some Christians seem out of touch. One time while walking down Second Avenue in Manhattan I looked to my right to see a man puling a tall, thin rack on wheels, like you might see in the garment district, but loaded with what are apparently all his worldly possessions. There was a slight but long incline in the road  as he pulled it along silently, but there was a prominent sign hand-written on cardboard  - "Repent - Judgment is Coming." I reflected that it looked like homelessness and mental illness, but in any case it seemed an off-putting way to communicate. (I also thought, upon further reflection, he might be the most sane man in New York City.) There are some repelling expressions of faith. And fanaticism can make a few dangerous.
2) Then there is the corporate actions of the church. Some local churches are abusive of authority, time, and money. In history, the church has tried to force salvation on people through the Inquisition, and there were those badly adjudicated witch trials up in Salem 300-plus years ago. There was the squelching of Galileo's new idea of the solar system's arrangement, the justification of American slavery from the Bible, and more recently the tolerated sexual abuse of children by priests. Those are used by nonbelievers to justify non belief. 
II) Let's take a look at the charge - 
A) If Christianity is all it claims to be, if Christians believe all they claim to believe, shouldn't Christians by and large be better people than others?
  We have reason to say "yes." The moral teachings of Christianity instruct us to right living.
 Here's just one of a multitude of commands to us to act uprightly. "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person." Colossians 4:5-6,
The Irish evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, "There are five Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian, and many people will not read the first four."
I would ask each believer reading this to commit yourself to a prayer like this: "Lord, I want my life to reflect well on the credibility of the Gospel."
B) We must be careful not to idealize what the church is supposed to be like. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was part of a group during the Nazi years in Germany where a dissenting group of Lutheran seminary students lived in an "underground" seminary, on an estate that sheltered them, and were compelled by the arrangement to daily interaction and community life. That's a challenge. He wrote a book titled "Life Together" to help us understand fellowship with people with faults and foibles. He warned against idealizing what church fellowship is supposed to be- that it is supposed to all involved just considerate and equally hard working and mutually supportive and mutually understanding. He calls it a wish dream, and if we hold onto a wish dream, he says, God will bring it to smash. We are called to the life of loving real human beings, with all kinds of differences, just like Christ did. We are called to take up our cross right here in reality, just as Christ did.  If we idealize what church life is supposed to be like we will soon become disillusioned and disdainful and disconnected.
  But didn't the church after Pentecost live in that kind of super-loving community? It was a high point, certainly, and wouldn't we love to experience those days, but Ananias and Sapphira soon emerged as hypocrites trying to raise their esteem in the church. And sometime after that the Hellenized widows, that is the ones who were from the Greek culture, sensed neglect compared to the treatment of the Hebrew widows.
  We don’t' want to confuse life on this earth with heaven. As the old couplet puts it:
"To live above with saints we love, that will be glory.
 To live below with saints we know, well, that's another story."
It is indeed. We live in a process of sanctification now, not in glorification and we don’t' all move like a unified convoy sailing all together toward our Home Port. Jesus Christ died for real people and He dwells among real people.
Having highlighted the faults of us Christians, we must also readily and happily acknowledge the wonderfully generous, kind, and sacrificing fellow believers who have enriched our lives immensely.  When the Church is the Church, the body of Christ, what blessings she conveys. Even though she is populated by the "feeble children of dust" and though she remains always needy, God's refreshing grace comes through many.
C) One help to loving the weak is to know that many Christians are growing. You may know someone who does not believe in Christ, who was raised in a sound home, with good examples and stability, and has her life together and is easy to get along with.  Then there is this professing Christian who is rough around the edges, is prickly, wasteful of money when she can't afford that, and has occasional explosions and meltdowns. But remember this - it may be that struggling Christian has come so far from where she would be - that without redemption she might be still in a drug addiction, and promiscuous, and maybe dead. A "video" record of movement by God's grace along the continuum of true life and freedom over time can be a better measure of the impact of faith than is a simple snapshot at any given time.
  We need to understand grace leads people on a pilgrim's progress. Some of course are "professors of faith without being possessors" but we will need to leave that judgment up to God.
D) There is a spectrum across Christianity we might delineate this way - on one end is nominalism - that is Christian in name only. They were born into it, celebrate Christmas to the nth degree, and maybe Easter too, but it's a life shaped by culture, not faith. On the other end of the spectrum is the rigorist- who wears it on the sleeve, is over-the-top opinionated, vocal, self-righteous, and hopes above all to get others to toe the line.
  And the best place, it would seem, is to be somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. To be someone who has mild religion, believes it, but doesn't go too far.
But here's a way to think of it:
  Timothy Keller (again in "The Reason for God") suggests that rigorists (he uses the term "fanatics") don't go too far in their faith - they don't go far enough into what faith is supposed to be. They don't go through all the way to grace; they are not true to grace.
Jesus most pointed criticisms were to the religious people of His day, the Pharisees. They were the committed, they had the highest standards they could imagine, they were motivated by a vision of a restoration for their nation. They deeply desired revival. But they missed God's point.
  Jesus didn’t ask them to take a step back and become more mild but rather He challenged to go to a place where they didn't want to go: to humble themselves, admit their spiritual poverty, and follow Him as the fulfillment of God's eternal plan.
III) The Cross always has our answer.
The grace of the Cross has a healing message for the challenge that hurtful Christians or the church corporately can be to faithfulness.  The cross is an expression of grace. Grace is God giving to us the opposite of what we deserve. We deserve judgment, but He gives to us a new eternal home.
The grace of the Cross is expressed in this story from Luke 23:39-43
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
What had this thief done to be awarded heaven?
What had he accomplished that somehow made up for a lifetime of crime?
The answer is nothing. Unless you want to count his repentance ("we receive the due rewards of our deeds, but this Man has done nothing wrong") and faith ("Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom"  said to one dying on a cross - that's vision!) What had the thief done to merit heaven? Nothing.
Yet on that very day of his death he would be with Jesus Christ in eternity, taking up residence in Paradise, a word with roots in an ancient Persian word which means the King's Garden.
The thief was saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
The hymn "Jesus Paid It All" expresses how grace is unmerited.
    "For nothing good have I, whereby thy grace to claim,
     I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.
And the hymn "Come Thou Fount" expresses the impact of grace on our living.
   "Oh, to grace how great a debtor, daily I'm constrained to be.
    Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee. "
 Always be true to grace and value above all else your love relationship with our rescuing God .
You may have been grievously wounded by a fellow believer or by a church fellowship.  That can be one of the most confusing of all wounds. But leave them to the Lord - "that's between you and him (or them)  now, Lord." Grace, teaching us humility and God's claim on our lives, tells us the real issue isn't you and other people, the real issue is you and God.
It wouldn't work for any to stand before God to give account and say: "Well, people who carried your name were real turn offs. I read about them in the news, and I met some I really didn't care for. So I just wasn't getting into the Jesus thing."
  Wouldn't God say:"Did you consider my Son? I sent Him for you."
May we say "I too am a child of grace. I want to live in grace and extend grace."