Sometimes the person that hurt you the most, is the one you need the most.
Some of us bear scars that are, as my sons used to both
That includes those who were molested as children, or who were proverbial “nerds” belittled by peers at school, or who were battered by cruel parents, heartbroken by severe loss, or crushed by the careless rejection of a boyfriend or girlfriend.
We know those hurts exist because this world’s a fallen place, sold under sin. Terrible things happen, and sinners act like, well, sinners.
But then there’s church hurts, wounds inflicted by and upon Christians, and they have their own gnarly flavor.
The pastor who abuses his position by dominating or belittling his subordinates creates one heck of a church hurt. As does the gossipy saint who betrays a confidence, divides people, assassinates character. Or the believer who stops communicating with friends and terminates relationships without warning or explanation, or Brother Mouth, who throws out sarcasm and cutting jokes at the expense of others, then hides behind the old
“Just Kidding!” shield.
Some defraud fellow believers in business deals, or don’t make good on their promises, or inflict callous bumper-sticker sayings on someone in pain when it’s sympathy that’s needed. A few (which is a few too many) run their ministries like hardline corporations and treat their employees like expendable cattle. Some tell you to call anytime then never pick up, much less return the call; others make it clear that they’re far too cool to bother with you at all.
You know how it goes, and you’ve got your own list. I don’t think most Christians behave like this, but too many do. Church hurts happen. They happen when believers mistreat each other, refusing to take seriously the Lord’s command to love one another as He loved us. (John 15:12) That’s why plenty of people have understandably, but very wrongly, abandoned fellowship.
For Better or Worse Means Just That
In this sense our relationship to the Body of Christ is like a marriage, because in most marriages both parties reach a point where they say, if only to themselves, “I’d be better off without this jerk!” Sometimes they follow through, splitting up, more often than not to their own detriment. But most stay, wisely, because the investment in the covenant pays off.
Ditto for the Church. Plenty of us reach a point of saying, and maybe even believing, that we’d be better off without these darned Christians in our lives. Too many disappointments; too much frustration; why bother? Some of us follow through, withdrawing from fellowship, cutting ties, giving up on the Church.
There are a couple things I wish I could say to such a person before he or she bails.
First, the Body of Christ is literal, not figurative.
In Romans 12:25, Paul refers to a tangible entity with specific parts, fitted together for practical and holy purposes. I may not always like some of the members of this body I’m attached to (and yes, I’m aware they might not be crazy about me either) but that has nothing to do with our function as body parts.
I’ve no idea, after all, what my naval thinks of my left toe, but it’s never tried to leave me over differences it has with that particular digit. And if a part of my body is injured, diseased, or non-functioning, the other body parts never put it down, belittle it, or reject it. Rather, they try to protect it, ease its pain, and compensate for it while it heals.
How strange that this 62 year old carcass knows instinctively what Christians are taught repeatedly, but often don’t get: we are literally and permanently joined together. We can either work together, building each other up and caring for each other’s well-being, or stupidly shoot ourselves in the foot by overt mistreatment or passive neglect. But withdrawing our affections from this Body won’t, at the end of the day, change the fact that we’re part of it.
Second, engagement is a mandate, not an luxury.
I cannot call myself a committed believer if I’m not active in a fellowship with other believers. A body part refusing to function in concert with the rest of the body is of little use, and the Christian refusing to function with the rest of the Church is, to my thinking, showing little integrity.
I’m very sympathetic to those who’ve been hurt or disappointed by others in the Body, and those inflicting the hurt need to be confronted and corrected. But correcting a wayward body part is a far cry from neglecting the Body as a whole.
I can kid myself into thinking my relationship with Christ can be sustained one on one, no messy interactions with other Christians needed. Yet the disciples weren’t trained one on one by Him. The Holy Spirit fell on the disciples when they were together in one accord in the Book of Acts; and Jesus prayed to the Father not only that His followers would be, but that they would be one. (John 17:22) Take fellowship out of Christianity and you really don’t have Christianity at all.
Third, sorry for the hurts.
If you’ve experienced church hurts, I really am sorry. I’ve had my own, and I’d never minimize how deep they cut, and how hard they can be to get over. (Full disclosure: I’m still working out some 40-plus year old wounds related to church life, so I appreciate the struggle.) But when considering what to do about those hurts, I hope you, and all of us, really, will take seriously what Scripture has to say about who we are, and how we’re meant
Please don’t ever give up on the Church. In all its imperfection, it remains His Body, His visible representation on this planet, an entity meant to build itself up under His headship by all members functioning as they’re fashioned, and to express His heart and mind to an unbelieving, but deeply loved, world.
Let’s try keeping that in mind, not forsaking the fellowship of ourselves together, but instead knowing that when we gather in our sanctuaries on this one day, we’re expressing a literal unity we’ve been in for all of the week and, thankfully, we’ll continue in for all of eternity.