This past Wednesday night, we were in the crowd of 100,000 watching on several JumboTrons in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, as the hometown Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the National Hockey League Stanley Cup final. As we sensed the crowd turning ugly with disappointment, frustration, and anger after such a big build-up with hopes of a momentous win, we made a hasty exit, fearing for our safety. Shortly afterwards, we saw a plume of smoke, which we later learned came from an overturned truck set on fire. We had been standing about ten feet from that truck! The riot which ensued was far more disappointing and angering than the hockey loss, for the law-abiding citizens felt that the violence was not representative of the city at all. "Vancouver is not like that," they said. But it just took a few out-of-town "professional rioters", who came prepared with gas masks and accelerant, to incite the crowd to violence, destruction, looting, and lawlessness, blackening the name of Vancouver.
Unfortunately, although many believe that human nature is basically good and that some become corrupted, the Bible contends the opposite. This principle has become enshrined in Reformed doctrine as "the total depravity of man". Evil lies just under the surface in every one of us.
Psalm 51:5 – Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (NIV)
Romans 3:23 – All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (NIV)
Sadly, this principle of our basic sinfulness shows true for Christians and churches as well. Every local church organization has a life cycle. When a new church starts out, it has many objectives to achieve in order to become successful, and those objectives are very clear. As the church reaches and passes its peak of success, and then begins to decline, the objectives that it should be achieving seem to become less and less clear. The sense of disappointment, frustration, and anger among the members increases, and they begin to take it out on each other, or on the pastor, and the riot begins. Often it takes only a few gossipers to incite a whole congregation, blackening the name of the church. The apostle Paul recognized the potential divisions:
1 Corinthians 12:21,24b-27 – The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (NIV)
The Bible makes it clear that God has equipped every local church with all the people with all the gifts that He deems necessary to accomplish both Christ-like character development in the members and also the work He has appointed for them in the surrounding community. This means that our frustration with others in our church may actually show frustration with God! That should make us think twice about complaining. We're not learning the life-lessons that He wants to teach us.
Prayer: Dear Lord and Father, forgive us for not recognizing Your hand of grace and mercy in configuring our local churches the way You want them to be. Help us not to chafe against Your discipline or kick against the goads, but rather to become more like Christ, which is Your will for each one of us. This we pray in His name. Amen.