Last night was our house church meeting. It's a night I normally look forward to, but this time the events of the evening left me deeply disturbed. What happened raised in my mind questions of what things characterize Christians. How are Christians - the people of God - different?
There was some discussion about living as a Christian - mostly things Christians do not do. And it's evident, I think, that socially and personally destructive practices should have no place in the life of God's people.
But I have been concerned that "Christians" very often define themselves by what they do not do, or do not believe. The world sees Christians as people who are against everything fun, interesting, or pleasurable. Christians often come across as colorless, bland and boring people who have little or nothing positive to say about anything.
What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to say we have found The Truth? That we are called out by God? That we represent the one true and living God? Or are we all fooling ourselves?
Does being a "nice guy" reflect the life of Jesus? Does it honor him?
Last night, a woman in the group became ill. She was clearly not doing well, and said so. The response? The group leader took his guitar and started one of the three requisite songs. Doing church as usual. Nobody so much as blinked about this woman sitting in our midst, getting worse.
James wrote that if anyone is ill, he or she should call the elders for prayer, and their prayer would be effective in healing. Two elders were in the group. Neither said a word or offered to pray.
While others were singing, I was praying, and felt that God was telling me to go pray for the woman. To lay my hands on her and ask God to heal her. I didn't want to be disruptive, but the sense would not go away. So I prayed directly: "God, do you want me to go pray for her, now?" Literally as I prayed that, the woman said to the group, "I'm really not feeling well. Would you pray for me?"
So I stood and went over to her, expecting someone to join me.
The two elders did not move.
I put my hand on her head and prayed, then went and sat back down. I was very frustrated and disappointed.
So the question comes: What is it about this group that makes it Christian? I'm not singling them out as a bad example. I'm asking about them because I'm part of them, and because they are typical of Christian groups. So what is it that makes the group Christian?
We come together every week, share a very good meal, sing three songs, discuss the week's sermon text, and have a prayer time that is more discussion of the prayer request than actual prayer. Very predictable. Sound familiar? You might have a similar pattern, except I can assure you we have better meals.
But what makes us a Christian group? Is it ascribing to some theological beliefs? Is it actions? Or perhaps, both beliefs and action? Can we legitimately claim to be the people of God, the community of faith, if we sit around, doing nothing, seldom acting, even when there is an evident need for action?
What did James mean when he said faith without works is dead? And what did Jesus mean when he said he was sending us just as the Father sent him? And what did Paul mean when he said we are the officially designated representatives - ambassadors - of Jesus?
Certainly, sitting around, doing nothing, when someone is sick and asks for prayer won't make it.
Do we wonder why evangelical Christians have little respect and no credibility in the world? That sort of don't-bother-me attitude deserves no respect.
But how does this come about? The answer is simple: poor leadership. Every group reflects its leaders. There were two elders present, charged with leading the group. Neither did anything.
This is a sign of a church that is unfaithful to the clear teaching of the Bible, and is in an important sense a failed church. Such a church has missed the primary charge from Jesus to make disciples, and out of that fails to act as the people of God. They fail to understand being a people of the resurrection, a people of the new creation, and they lose their reason for being.
All from bad leadership.
By the way, the woman who was ill? God healed her.