And all of this talk about members and churches brings us, naturally, to the elephant in the room: leaving a church.
It happened again last week. A prominent figure in Christian ministry publicly announced that she was leaving the denomination that she called home for so long, the denomination that - we have to acknowledge - has made it possible for her to be a prominent figure in Christian ministry to begin with. The denomination that shaped the faith that she holds that made her the voice that she is. And she left the whole denomination, not just her local church.
As so many of these things tend to go, the problem she expressed was not a problem of doctrine. It was not a problem of faith. She didn't have a problem with the Jesus that this denomination preaches. What she had a problem with was the cultural impact of the church she was with. They were on the 'wrong side' of the social issues that have risen to the forefront of our national dialogue, and it's simply not in vogue for her to continue to associate with them.
Now, listen, I don't know all of the circumstances surrounding this decision. I don't know the battles this woman has fought in her church. I've fought some in my church, so I'm no stranger to the nature of the church's brokenness. (Spoiler alert: all churches are broken in one way or another.)
But what I will say, plainly, is how destructive her announcement was.
Her announcement did not build up the body of Christ. Her announcement did not spur anyone toward change. Her announcement did not glorify God. Rather, what she's done is to throw an entire denomination of worshipers, an entire group of persons made in the image of God, under the bus in order that she might be 'woke,' if you want to use that term. She took the hundreds of years that marginalized persons have been fighting in the church for the image of God, and she threw them all out and declared, publicly, that it's okay to quit. It's okay to stop fighting alongside those you love and to instead, just leave them.
She declared to a watching world that Christianity is fundamentally broken - but not because of its Jesus.
That's a problem.
When we make statements that say that the church is getting things wrong, that's usually true. The church is getting a lot of things wrong. Just look at our history, and you can see that we've done some very broken things. But when we declare that it's okay to disown the church because of her sin, that the most fundamental thing about the church is not the God that it preaches, then that's a problem. When we break with the church because of the pressures of culture, that's a problem.
That said, we absolutely have to call out the church when the Jesus that we preach is not the Jesus that we live. Of course, our aim is to live out the life and love of the Jesus that we preach. But we also have to recognize that not one of us is getting this perfectly right. And so the inclination that we have to stomp our feet, to throw dust toward the church, and to walk away, declaring, "Whatever. Ya'll do what ya'll want to do" is not helpful. Nor is it Christlike.
Our fellowship, our community, our calling demands that we fight alongside one another. That when we've committed to relationship with one another, we don't just walk away when things get hard. That when we struggle with other believers, we don't make a public mockery of them - a move that throws the church down and raises the seemingly-righteous 'Christian' higher. Oh, just look at the morals of this woman! What a brave and courageous woman she is!
...except that she just broke her promise of fellowship. Except that she just threw the baby out with the bath water. Except that if you ask her, there are plenty of good, God-fearing, God-loving persons in the denomination that she just declared has it all wrong. Except that the very foundation of the faith that she claimed gave her the right to walk away came from the very place she walked away from.
And yet, because it was culture that pushed her out, culture now praises her.
...and the church weeps.
We are brothers and sisters. There's no way around that. We are called to live together, to love together, to wrestle with the hard things together. So we have to stop this kind of thing where all of a sudden, we're praising Christians for walking away from a broken church. What nonsense! What failure!
To be continued, tomorrow.