“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…” Eph 4:2
I’m sorry. Maybe you grew up in an environment of legalism? You weren’t allowed to be human- no mistakes, no struggles, no doubts, no failures. Your religion was about all of the things you couldn’t (or, shouldn’t) do rather than about the Gospel of King Jesus. Maybe you had an abusive pastor or teacher? Perhaps he wasn’t who you thought he was? Was he controlling? Did he fail morally? Was he incorrigible? Maybe you were made to feel “less-than” because of life choices or circumstances? Maybe you discovered a spirit of narrow-mindedness that refused to answer or even validate your questions or concerns? Maybe something happened and you felt betrayed by those you once considered close family and friends? Maybe you were taken advantage of financially or otherwise? Maybe you realized one day that everyone around you is hypocritical and who they are on Sunday isn’t who they are on Friday nights? Did someone say something to hurt you? Were you treated with disrespect? Was the church cliquish? Cultish? Demanding? Were things said about you that weren’t true? Was there one or two controlling personalities that required appeasement… or else? If so, I am sincerely and truly sorry.
The church isn’t perfect. But, you know that, don’t you? This doesn’t take away the hurt, the heartache, or the stress. You’re not perfect either. But, you’re expecting me to say that- something like: “We’re all sinners, we all need grace, the church has room for one more hypocrite, blah, blah, blah.” But, that seems pretty dismissive and indifferent, doesn’t it? So, what’s the answer? Where is the healing?
As a Pastor, let me acknowledge what you’ve already discovered: The church will let you down. The church is people, people are sinners, sinners sin, and sin can hurt. But this is not a surprise to God. So, Paul encourages unity in Ephesians 4 and exhorts the local church to “bear one another in love.” Think about it: If everyone got along then we wouldn’t have to “bear one another.” But, how can we bear someone that has physically, sexually, emotionally, financially, or spiritually abused us? How can we bear the gossip? How can we bear the legalist? How can we bear the back-biter? How can we bear those who have hurt us so deeply?
Oh, friend, what a complicated and messy question! Here’s the deal, where reconciliation is possible, seek it. Take a friend, take a pastor, or someone to arbitrate. This is ideal. Paul and Barnabas split ways over a “sharp dispute” (Acts 15:36-41), but it appears that Paul let go of any grudge he may have held (Col 4:10). One missionary team became two and the Gospel continued to move forward in power. But, sometimes reconciliation isn’t possible. In these cases, I plead with you, don’t turn away from the local church. You only hurt yourself when you neglect the ordinary means of grace (preaching of the Word and sacraments). As messy and complicated as it might be, God gave us the covenant community (i.e., the church). And, while I can’t speak for every church, I know what a blessing it is to be a part of a good one (like Antioch!).
I realize that this might not help at all. Just know this: God loves you deeply. He has given to you the covenant community as a gift. You have been given spiritual gifts to use in the context of community. The church is better with you there. Yes, there will be times of disappointment. There will be times of hurt. There will be times of downright despair and stress. But the church is the means by which the Gospel is furthered, where the saints are encouraged and equipped, and, of course, where King Jesus is glorified. I know you hurt. I’ve been hurt too. That’s how I know that healing is possible. I hear you. I see you.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Matthew S. Rickett