In August of 1991 we came home from Desert Storm. My unit had been activated and sent overseas on a nine month deployment and we were finally home. When we checked back in to our home armory, there were a number of new Marines that had been posted there, fresh out of basic training. As we began to work with them and integrate them into the unit we began to notice a decline in quality, mostly reflected in attitude. I know every generation looks at the one coming up behind them and thinks that somehow “they just don’t make them like they used to,” but it was really true. This new batch didn’t seem as disciplined or respectful.
One day in particular, one of our new PFCs (E-2) approached me and began his sentence with “Dude, can we…” Please bear in mind that I was a Sergeant (E-5) and should be addressed as such. The Corporal (E-4) that I had been talking with and I … addressed the issue and made sure this young Marine understood that addressing a non-commissioned officer (E-4 and above) should include the appropriate respect. That respect is not about the individual, but about the heritage and honor of the rank. You’d think they would teach them these things.
I see a similar decline of ethics and values in the church. People who claim to be among the flock of Jesus Christ are biting and tearing at each other with a rabid fervor like wolves in sheep’s clothing. People who claim to be walking with Christ pay little attention to the Good Shepherd and their own walk with him because they are too busy policing, pointing fingers, and levying harsh (and frankly ignorant) judgments against their fellow Christians. The Bible teaches that Satan is the “accuser of the saints,” but we seem to be doing his job as well as he does. It makes me wonder, what is being taught in churches these days? Have we become so dependent on tearing down various ministries and movements to sound novel and spiritual, to build up our own ministry, that we spend our time preaching against other believers rather than declaring the glory of the One who called us and saved us from such self-centered pursuits?
To be clear, we are called to address false teaching. Biblically, that means identifying the teaching, and then teaching the truth. We seem to think that it means identify the teaching and anyone we think is teaching it, and then spend all our time talking about how bad those people are and invalidating their faith. Often times, the churches that are targeted may be teaching something that is odd or off-base, but the ministry still proclaims Christ: his death and resurrection, and that salvation comes by no other name. In the Bible, the false teachings and heresies denied these essential truths. We seem to scream “heresy” over debatable, denominational differences of interpretation rather than actual heresy. If it’s what comes out of a man that makes him unclean, and what is coming out of many in the church is accusation, resentment, (self-righteous) judgment, vitriol, and hate, then what does that say about the state of the church in our day?
I was raised Presbyterian, baptized Southern Baptist, and have many friends in ministry who range from Pentecostal to Lutheran and Orthodox. We have our differences and yet there is a unity that we enjoy. There are ministries we do that are both beautiful and powerful, and that is what the Kingdom of God should look like. When Jesus redeems us, he reconciles us both to God, and his church–his people…all his people. “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters…You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we all stand before God’s judgment seat…Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:1-13). There is no cultural or contextual grounds to dismiss this instruction. We are miserably failing this command, and teaching others to do likewise by our efforts and our witness (go browse Facebook for a couple of minutes. It won’t take long to run into some good Christian venom).
I think the church needs to pause and revisit Ephesians 4:25-5:21. I urge you to go read it now. In fact, here is a link to the passage. We need to teach this. This word, written to a church that seemed to feel that being right was more important than being loving (see Revelation 2:1-7) sounds woefully familiar. We need to teach love. Jesus, in his last teaching to his disciples prior to the cross–at the most critical time he gave his most important teaching–told them that the new command he gives them is to love one another, that by this love for one another the world would know that they are his disciples. Maybe this is the reason the church is so quickly dismissed in our culture. Maybe much of the pushback we get in the world is not persecution, but due rejection of a false and perverted witness. We need to teach the church how to love … how to love one another. We don’t need to change our clothes, we need to transform the wolves into sheep.