When was the last time you heard the truth and nothing but the truth (implied or stated outright) from the pulpit? Let me rephrase. I have attended Presbyterian churches, United Methodist churches, a Dutch Reformed church (actually a college chapel), a Baptist church, a Free Methodist church, a Vineyard Church, an Episcopal church, a Wesleyan church, and a couple non-denominational churches. Most recently I attended a non-denominational church that is affiliated with New Frontiers International. In every fellowship, except for the Presbyterian Churches which I attended as a child and so cannot remember for certain what (if anything) I heard from the pulpit, I have heard one of those hope filled sermons about giving. Surly you know what I’m talking about. The ”Give and it will be given to you” messages, sometimes in equal measure and sometime ten, thirty, or one hundred fold. Of course we all know they do not really mean that if you give a dollar to your church God will automatically give a dollar back to you but there are times when it sounds like that is exactly what they mean.
Unfortunately, this gospel of God’s blessings is not limited to trying to convince you to tithe. In subtle and not so subtle ways the pulpit has too often been the conveyer of misinformation, false promises, poor (as in bad) theology, and a dangerous, potentially damaging gospel. The danger and damage comes into play when we do not get what we have been set up to expect–a healing, a job, the safety of our children, prosperity. Our faith is shaken. Our trust is broken. And we are left feeling very much alone. In the worst case scenarios guilt and shame are added to the emotions we must wrestle with, since the companion implication from the pulpit (or our small groups or our counseling sessions or our Job like Christian “friends”) is that we must be harboring some kind of un-repented sin. Otherwise the promised blessing would be ours.
I know. The above is harsh criticism to dispense against the men and women in church leadership. And, if I left it at that I would not blame you a bit for dismissing my observations as one more bitter rant against Church leadership. The truth is, I have often wondered about the scripture passages that feed these false promises myself. And before I sound to cynical I must admit most in leadership are not intentionally trying to misrepresent the Word.
The trouble is that in their attempts to give the Body hope and encourage Godly principles those in the pulpit have over simplified the truth, making it sound like a magic formula. Wanting quick fixes and easy answers we, the people in the pews, do not do our homework. We fail to study out the bigger picture on our own. We do not put feet to our faith. We do not accept responsibility (and repent) for our actions or inactions which contradict a salvation walked out in fear and trembling. Finally, we do not listen well to the teachings of Jesus which warn that following Him is not be easy nor those that explain how we are His hands and feet. Oh, we like hearing the testimonies about unexpected money in the mail but when the Spirit nudges us to be the source of the gift we do not cheer as loudly. We love to talk about “winning our cities for Jesus” but we also seem to think the city is just going to come walking through our doors.
Perhaps a few lost souls will wander in without the Church doing a single thing to encourage them. The vast majority, however, will not. The vast majority have no idea that the Church has any solutions, in part because the all too loud mouth pieces of the Church are voices of condemnation and discouragement rather than invitation and hope (but that is a post for another day).
We, the Church, need to start speaking the whole truth, to ourselves and to the outside world. Instead of, “Give so you will get” we need to be saying and hearing, “Give because it has been given.” We must start countering the American mentality of never enough with a Kingdom mentality of more than enough. We are blessed to be a blessing. Jesus needs no editor to improve on His life story. He needs a Body to live it.