Recently, museltof christian ministries UK were asked a question which was more than tinged with a little sadness, but it must be a question which many have asked! Here it is, and our response follows:
"I find myself once more at a crossroads. Many
years ago I was almost completely put off the Christian life by
learning to implicitly trust Christian ministers, only to
discover that they were either plainly devious and dishonest, or
that their own lives were a mess (which they managed to conceal
I did not go to church for years as a result of some of the things I saw and experienced. So I mostly worshiped alone for many years; thats how saddened and disenchanted I became with the church, ministers and pastors, and, yes, Christians too. Yes, occasionally I would go to church, especially at Easter, but I would always go as a non-commited 'visitor'.
There was no doubt in my own mind that during this long period I remained a Christian even though some regular church-goers seemed to find this hard to believe! But the pain and hurt of the past was just too much for me to put myself through the whole 'church member' experience again. Yet I must admit that I truly pined for the love and support of a close-knit 'church family', even though my past experiences had made me strongly doubt whether such close and supportive 'church families' really existed.
Finally, after 12 long years of estrangement from active church membership, I found another congregation. I had moved to another state (the writer of this letter did not wish us to quote her denomination or new state), and there was a congregation of about 200 people there. I went a few times and liked it and the preaching was straight out of the Bible and truly wonderful - My, how I had missed this! I did not find the people over-friendly, which can be a put-off, but the pastor was nice and seemed genuinely interested in me as a person. I continued to go off and on, perhaps 2 or 3 times a month, and I began to notice that the people were indeed not 'over-friendly' - in fact they seemed a little cold....or was it me?
I kept going and was inspired by the preaching - had I found my true spiritual home at long last?
But I continued to be a little perplexed that the congregation folks were very reserved - they did not seem to wish to make contact at all.
It seems that - in no time - I had been attending for 10 months or so and the inevitable started to happen: the pastor started dropping hints about me becoming a member. I arranged a meeting with him because I was scared about the 'dough angle' - did he just want to add another tither to the church? I was happily surprised that he thought that tithing was legalistic. I asked him about the lack of friendliness which I had found. He said, 'You can do your bit to help us become more friendly!' I was pleased with this attitude of honesty. Yes, I really could see myself becoming a member here!
Well that was two years ago now; but just 6 months ago, my husband left me for another woman. My husband was not a believer but he had never interfered with my Christian beliefs in any way. But when he suddenly left me it was a great, great shock and surprise to me.
Now I felt that I needed great support, compassion and reassurance, but.......... I received none at all - just a few kind words from the pastor and his wife, but not too much from the 'friends' I felt that - in the fulness of time - I was finally making in my new spiritual home.
So again I was having to confront this thing which really puzzled me:
How can Christians be so cold, indifferent, unloving and unsupportive??
Were they even truly Christians??
This was the most truly biblical church that I had ever attended - no false doctrines here! - so how can a truly biblical church be so cold and unloving??
Again, I have come to feel that church-attending Christianity has let me down - will I ever find that close-knit warm and loving church family which I have sought for for so many years??"
I am afraid that congregations of Christians are a mixed and motley bunch!
I am reminded of that old saying,
'It is no good searching for the 'perfect church' because if you ever find it....THEY WON'T HAVE YOU!'
And yet I am very sympathetic to this lady because her experiences, I fear, are all too depressingly common!
This lady should have expected love, concern, compassion and real emotional support yet she did not receive it from those who claim to be the people of Christ!
How can this happen? Also, how can especially biblical congregations sometimes be colder than liberal churches??
It does not seem to make any sense!!
And yet I know, from our own experiences, that especially biblical churches where false teachings are opposed at every stage, are sometimes rather cold places. How can this possibly be?
It is because there is no theological equation which states that correct doctrine equals the love of God! Perhaps we all tend to feel that there should be when we find the damage which false teachers/teachings do, but - as I state many times - holding all the correct doctrines will save nobody! It is impossible not to be reminded of 1 Corinthians 13 here:
'Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears'
(1 Corinthians 13:8-10 - NIV).
The truth is, it is only true Christian love - the love of Christ - which will be found to be truly abiding and we just cannot explain or excuse the fact that all too many congregations seem to be seriously lacking here. As I state again and again, modern Christian congregations in the western world just do not (for the most part) live up to the standards of total commitment to each other which we see in the early chapters of Acts; this is partly because we mostly now enjoy a much higher standard of living whereas the early Christians were mostly quite poor.
It is also partly explained by the fact that while the early Christians were all in one organisational situation, modern Christians might be found in Prebyterian, Baptist, Methodist or any number of other organisational settings. In reality, this tends to diffuse and weaken any 'across the board' Christian support within any local community. Yet, while seeing these difficulties which the first Christians would not have been faced with, it remains the case that while some congregations are truly loving and supportive towards each other, many many others appear to fall short and this is always depressingly disappointing.
I may say that congregations in places like India, Indonesia and Africa often put us to shame here and there is frequently a most amazing - and truly New Testament level - of Christian commitment in many of their congregations!
On the other hand, I think that the lady who wrote to me is probably expecting a little too much of the organised, visible church. As I stated earlier, we really are a very mixed bunch. Let us never forget that the true Church are those saints whose names are written in heaven - the truly called and converted members of the body of Christ and they will undoubtedly be found scattered through several denominations. Local congregations will be a mix and - whilst I hope I am not offending anybody here - I tend to believe that the average congregation only has about 20% of it's people who are truly walking with Christ at any one time! I used to think that this statistic rose sharply among congregations where the preaching and teaching is always truly biblical but, lamentably, I have come to think not - don't forget: all the correct doctrines don't necessarily grant us more of the love of God!
So, what advice did I give this undoubtedly sincere lady?
Don't expect perfection among Christians in this present life because it just isn't there. Also bear in mind that folks stand at different levels of spiritual strength and development in all congregations: some are on the road to making a decision to serve Christ, but they have not reached that point yet (whether baptized or not!), some may be backsliders and may seriously need to rejuvenate their walk with Christ - they are not lost, but they need to urgently seek a closer walk with Jesus. Perhaps others need much longer. Without doubt, there may be still others who are not and never have been believers in the fullest sense of that word. Why are they there? Because they are in sympathy with the Christian way of life, perhaps other members of their family attend and it just seems the 'right' place to be on a Sunday! We must realise that some such people may be very pleasant people by nature and this can frequently give a false impression of their true standing with God!
But we can celebrate and take real joy in the fact that just about every single congregation is going to have a few folks who are genuinely involved in an active walk with Jesus Christ - But! - does this make those people perfect and without flaws or shortcomings?? ABSOLUTELY NOT, and please do not expect it!
Just looking at the New Testament will reveal that even genuinely converted Christians are far from perfect and sometimes tensions can exist between folks who are genuinely walking with God. We can note New Testament evidence of some tensions between people like Paul, Peter, Barnabas and John Mark, for instance.
I have advised this lady to stay where she is and persevere, but it will be her choice of course. And yet there is a time to move on to a different congregation in many Christian's lives and we have to recognise this, yet it should be seen as something of a last resort since experience shows that it is very hard to re-settle in a new congregation.
The best advice is to pray and seek the Lord's counsel at such a difficult and depressing time, and - oh - also to forgive!
MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS