Church – or Religious Social-Club?

It should have been an older Pastor’s ultimate “gravy-job“. It was a large church, in an affluent part of a major city, and they were looking for a Senior Pastor. The salary and benefits package would have done many corporate CEO’s proud. It really WAS a “plum-job“, for the right Pastor. Looking for a change in scenery, and hoping to retire in a few years, Pastor-Bob applied, along with a several other applicants.

A few weeks after Pastor-Bob applied, he got a cordial letter from the Pastor Search Committee of the church asking him to come candidate(preach) at the church. When he went there to candidate, the facilities were impressive, and the parking lot was full of late-model upscale cars, an obvious display of the affluence of the members, but when he went into the church, he sensed that all was not as it seemed. Many of the members were aloof, and there seemed to be quite a few cliques, because the members didn’t really mingle. They just huddled in small groups. He might have his work cut out for him if he went there, because it seemed more like a social-club than a church.

The Pastor Search Committee was impressed with his grasp of the Word, and his ability to articulate the great truths of Scripture, so they voted unanimously to call Pastor-Bob to be their Senior Pastor. That was when he began planning his “not-so-grand” entrance.

While some of the details are contrived or embellished, it is based on a true story from an American Pastor, and the church could really have been almost any church in the world.

When he walked into the church for his first Sunday as their new Pastor, his breath smelled of cheap whiskey and stale cigars. He had fished his tattered clothes and mismatched shoes out of a dumpster. His hair was long and unkempt, and he had a scraggly beard. He resembled a hobo, a vagabond, or one of the homeless people down by the bus station. He came in limping and leaning on his cane, not exactly what the church was looking for in a Senior Pastor. The only person who greeted him was the usher who shuffled him to the far-back corner of the sanctuary. Everyone else ignored him, looking away in disgust. Some even moved farther away from him when he sat down.

Only two people were in on this little skit, his wife, and the Clerk of Session. His wife dropped him off about a block from the church so that he could walk by himself into the church. She parked their older car in the back corner of the parking lot and slipped inside quietly, where she could observe what was going to happen.

As the service progressed, the congregation wondered who was going to preach, because the chair where their Pastor usually sat was empty. Finally, the only Elder who was “in the know” stood up, and said that it was his great honor and privilege to welcome their new Pastor, Pastor-Bob. As Pastor-Bob slowly made his way to the front of the church, the congregation let out a collective “gasp“. Who was THAT man? Certainly that wasn’t their new Pastor, was it? That wasn’t the man who had candidated there a few weeks before, or was it?

When Pastor Bob got to the pulpit, and shook the hand of the Elder, he faced the congregation and said “I’m not sure that I am in the right place. I thought that I was coming to Pastor a church, but what I see here is a social-club, masquerading as a church.” Then he opened his Bible and said, “Turn with me to James 2, beginning at verse 1:”

2 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-8)

After reading from James 2, he related both his experiences when he had been there before, and what he had just experienced, and asked “Do you want to be a church, or do you want to be a social-club, masquerading as a church? If all you want is a “feel-good” Chaplain for your social-club, I am the wrong man for the job, but if you want to truly be the church of Jesus Christ, we have some work to do, but God can do it.

How we treat those around us, and those who walk through our doors matters – to God, and it should matter to us. We show the genuineness of our salvation by how we treat others, and God WILL judge us by our actions, or inaction:

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

How we treat those who walk through the doors of our churches matters – to God, and it should matter to us too. Having been a Deacon in a church, I know first-hand that occasionally someone will come to our churches seeking some kind of help. While it behooves us to be good stewards of the resources that God has provided to our mercy-ministries, we can’t treat every sob-story with suspicion, because where there ARE genuine-needs, needs we should meet to the best of our ability. Sometimes it will be best if one of the Deacons goes with the person to get what they need, rather than handing them money which may get used for drugs or alcohol instead.

If you drive the streets of any city in America, you WILL encounter people who are homeless, particularly here in Florida, where our moderate climate makes it easier for them to survive on the streets. They may be begging on a street-corner, or huddled in an alley, but they have no place to call “home“. Sadly, many of them are Veterans, men and women who have been used-up by our Armed Forces, and dumped back on our streets, with little or no support-system or training to reintegrate into our society.

The person in need may NOT be homeless, but may be your neighbor. It may be necessary to exercise the same level same level of prudence that churches must exercise when supplying needs. I used to have a neighbor who was frequently broke, but she would pay the satellite-TV bill and buy beer before she bought groceries, so I didn’t usually hand her money, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t sometimes take care of her needs. I did buy some of her medications and took her grocery-shopping when she was broke, not because she had mismanaged her money, but because she didn’t have any income due to illness or injury. There was a difference.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, WE are the church, and we bring our attitudes towards those who are less fortunate than us into that building we call the “church“. The problems that Pastor found in the church in the story were amplified-symptoms of the attitudes of its members. While there were homeless people on the streets trying to eke-out their existence, church members were well-fed, lived in virtual-mansions, and drove cars that cost more than many houses, and they didn’t care. After all, they HAD earned that “right“…

I don’t live in a mansion, eat steak and lobster every night or drive a luxury-vehicle, but I DO have a place to call “home“, eat well, and have a dependable vehicle, which is far more than homeless people can enjoy. Maybe I SHOULD keep some extra cash in my vehicle to give people in need, and take that giving-attitude to church with me. How about you?

Church – or Social-Club?

The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Sola Deo Gloria!

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