It's easy to *want* to love Jesus even when it isn't easy to show love to Him through obedience.
It isn't so easy however to love His Church. It's hard. And the biggest hindrance for me in loving the Church is the judgments I pass and the stumbling blocks I cling to.
So I am about to get real. Total honesty. If you get squeamish easily about "religious" matters, you can leave without offending me, and check back next time I write about my homemade laundry soap or something less meaningful.
First some history. Since my husband and I met we have been involved with four different church families in addition to our church family at the Bible college we both attended. All incredible churches, where we have met some of our closest friends and shared some of our most meaningful life events. Two of the churches he has been a paid minister on staff. Two of the churches are of the "denomination" with which we would identify ourselves if asked on a survey, which of course means that two of the churches are of different denominations. Some of the churches had elders and deacons, some of them were led by the preaching minister alone. Some of them served communion every week. Some of them hardly ever served communion. One of them believed in and practiced the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of them sang almost exclusively from hymns. One of them didn't use any musical instruments at all. Almost all of them had differing beliefs and teachings about baptism in specific and about the gospel in general. Considering the churches that my dad, my mom, and my husband's parents grew up attending or attend now, as well as our experiences in churches, I would say every mainstream Christian denomination and Catholicism has been covered.
With all of these influences, I would think I would be *less likely* to hold such serious judgments about people's beliefs, church operations, and matters of faith. I mean shouldn't such an eclectic background help me to understand that "church" can be meaningful and real and Godly even when some aspects differ?
Now, don't misunderstand what I am saying. There is Truth. Absolute Truth. His name is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. His mother was a virgin when he was conceived and she remained a virgin until after his birth. He lived a sinless life. He was crucified, buried and came to life on the third day. He ascended into Heaven. There is no way to have a relationship with God except through Jesus Christ. The Gospel is Truth. We must believe, repent and be baptized. We can have the Holy Spirit living within us. There is a Heaven and a Hell. The Scriptures are God-breathed.
Every church family we have ever had the pleasure of growing with has believed this above paragraph. We all agree on that Truth and yet our services, our teachings, our beliefs about God's Will still vary GREATLY from one body to the next. And I am okay with that! I think we all need to be okay with that. In fact I'm confident one of the ways in which God has refined my character is by allowing me to experience worshiping Him among many different kinds of believers, even believers who believe some things differently than I.
We are called to Unity. Unity with all people in God's church. Unity regardless what name is on our building, what title we use for the man (or --gasp-- woman) who is delivering the sermon on Sunday, regardless what style of music we play. So in order to strive further toward Unity I want to lay out my sin and struggle in hopes that you can relate to some of them, that you would be challenged to identify your own stumbling blocks, and that you will hold me accountable in continually giving theses areas of my life over to Jesus.
Some of the areas I am going to list stem from a very profound or significant conviction from Scripture. For example my beliefs about Baptism and Communion come from the example set by the apostles in Acts. Some of the other areas come from personal preference that is based more on my culture or my personality. (For example, my preferred Scripture translation.) But whether they are from a Scriptural standpoint or a personal preference, all of these have become a foothold for Satan to tempt me or distract me from the ultimate goal of unity with Christ and His followers.
Here's my exhaustive (and exhausting!) list of church struggles in no particular order......
1. Churches who don't regularly (weekly or perhaps in some cases daily) partake in communion together.
2. When someone refers to the preacher as a pastor.
3. Churches serving absolute nutrient-deficient, high fructose corn syrup, bleached white flour, high fat type of "food" products. (Think ice cream socials, pizza parties, soda, chips, cakes, donuts, cookies)
4. Any Bible translation other than the NASB which is what I prefer (I'm just being honest don't throw anything at me!!)
5. When someone talks about the gospel and salvation as "a prayer asking Jesus into your heart"
6. Thinking of baptism as an after thought or ceremonial ritual rather than as part of the Gospel message
7. Sprinkling babies
8. Church membership
9. People who are not welcoming of children in the church service
9. People who are not welcoming of children in the church service
10. Excessive time spent trying to figure out if someone is "saved"
11. Women in leadership roles (preacher, elder)
12. Referring to "worship time" as the part of the service when there is singing
13. Fervent allegiance to a denominational creed
14. Congregational voting
I'm not perfect. I'm still learning and growing. Although surely you realize that after reading all of the areas I still allow to get in the way of my relationship with my brothers and sisters.
Our minister, Aaron, has been a big influence on me examining my heart and desiring to push aside the (many) hindrances I have. He is one of the most incredibly passionate men I have ever met. His heart is so on fire for Jesus that you can't help but feel the essence of God radiate from him. God has used Aaron's words to penetrate deep into my soul this past year. I have had to come face to face with my ugliness, my brokenness, my sin and my struggles as a direct result of God's speaking through Aaron during a sermon. He and I wouldn't agree on every doctrinal issue, we probably approach sharing the gospel in drastically different ways, and I would guess that each of our views on church contradict the other person's in some areas.
Aaron preaches Jesus and loves Jesus and knows Jesus. Jesus is what matters. And of course the other issues matter too. We need to spend time studying God's word and seek to understand His will through Scripture. We need to talk about differing beliefs with our fellow brethren. It is acceptable to have personal preferences. It is okay if the other issues matter, they just can't matter MORE than the issue of Jesus. If my belief about a doctrine is hindering me from unity with the body, it is hindering me from unity with Christ.
Using the words of Hebrews 12:1 as my guide, since I am surrounded by such a ground cloud of witnesses, I must therefore lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles me and run with endurance the race that is set before me.
Will you join me?