Thursday, September 1, 2011

Truth in the Church

I have heard it said that Christianity is an ideal value system, a great ethical and moral teacher, particularly for children. Honesty is a foremost ethical and moral issue in rearing children.  Children's first moral test is usually with regard to dishonesty (lying, stealing, etc).

Johnny, who has just turned 3 years old, has gotten into the cookie jar, without his Mommy's permission.  He knows it, and above all, Mommy sees the telltale signs of the remnants that trail directly behind the couch, where the dirty deed was done.

Johnny is oblivious to the trail, and equally so to the crumbs on his shirt and chocolate stains on his lips.

Mommy asks, "Johnny, did you get into the cookie jar?"

Johnny replies, wide-eyed and serious, "No, Mommy."

After many minutes of dialogue, Johnny refuses to admit that he had disobeyed his Mother.  When shown the cookies crumb trail, his eyes fill up and he gets very quiet and still.

The evidence of the misdeed is evident, even to this 3 year old.

Dishonesty is a moral and ethical issue, but I would challenge that it is much more than just a great value system, by which we determine who is "good" and who is "not good".

Johnny's choice to lie to his Mother was indeed a bad choice, but does his lying indicate that Johnny is not good? We would probably say that indeed Johnny is a young child, who must be taught truth.

So, back to where I began, if we say that Truth is important and we believe that Truth must be taught, then we must accept that our culture (in the U.S.) completely has warped the definition of truth.  Truth has become relative, meaning truth has become a personal experience.  What is true for one person may not be true for another. So, what is truth?  This question has been asked since the dawn of time, I believe.  This is where the Truth of God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ becomes essential, for Christians.

It would seem that this is where the Church steps in--as Christians we are shaped and formed by the Truth of God revealed and manifest in the person of the message of Jesus Christ.  This Truth--salvation by faith in Jesus Christ--is what makes us Christian.  So, how is the American Christian Church doing with speaking truth? I think the Church in America struggles with defining and pursuing what I will call real, unbiased truth.  Because of our relative culture, we, as a society, have been taught, without realizing it, that we should not offend or upset other people with our opinions, even IF they are coming from a place of truth.  (Except if you're in the Media, but that's another blog!).  In general, we want to please people so that they will like us, because if people don't like us then we are not successful. I think this is happening a great deal with Christian individuals and Church communities.  Church leaders are successful in America if they produce a certain result--and that result is quantity.  The American way--the more you have, the better!

I want to ask a question of Church leaders and believers--where in the world did we get this idea that the measure of success with spiritual formation was to be in quantity? This simply is not a Biblical truth. Evidenced time and time again in the Gospels, Jesus' had many fans but few real followers. What does the Church want to produce--followers or fans? Do we want people to like us more than truth as revealed in Jesus Christ?  This issue of speaking truth directly correlates to how we want people to perceive us.  If we say what others want to hear, "to tickle their ears", then we are not being truthful to the message of Christ.  Christ came speaking truth in love, filled with mercy and grace, but it was truth all the same.  And in fact, the truth He spoke to the "church leaders" of his day was pretty hard.  Are we, as leaders, challenging one another to speak truth, in all categories of life? Are we dealing with conflict in a truthful manner, or are we simply ignoring issues or overlooking errors, simply because we don't know how to really speak truth?  Do we embody the Biblical principle of Truth? If we do not embody Truth, those who look to us for wisdom, guidance and discernment will not be able to embody it themselves.

Like Johnny's Mommy, she had to embody the real truth by showing him the cookie crumb trail, otherwise Johnny would have continued in his own self-deception.  She had to explain to him that Truth is an essential part of life, and it is integral to maintaining trust in relationships. Do we show one another the cookie crumb trails in our church communities and relationships, or do we cover them up with rationalizations or even judgment (criticizing others behind their back, gossip, etc) because our egos have been bruised or because we are afraid people won't like us anymore?  These behaviors are not the way in which we reveal truth to one another in God's Church.  In fact, the issue of honesty is what has caused many people to leave the church with the word "hypocrite" burned into their religious experience. What cookie crumb trails do we have in our communities, our relationships and our lives? What one's need to be revealed in truth? That old saying, "It is what it is," is one of my favorites.

My prayer is that truth in the American Church is defined according to the truth of Scripture, particularly the revelation of truth in Jesus Christ.  We intellectually like Jesus' idea and concepts and we love to be fans, but becoming a follower often requires a higher commitment to speaking truth, in all circumstances, despite the fear of rejection.  Remember, Jesus warned his disciples iat length, in the Gospel of John, about the rejection and pain that would come when they used His name.  In the Church, we need to stop trying to please others, and focus on pleasing God.  For when we please God, then God gives us the ability to truly love one another, even in the midst of conflict or confrontation.  The Church will always be full of folks who will make leadership difficult and challenging, yet if leaders speak truth with love, then perhaps there would be less time spend on cleaning up the messes and more time focused on building disciples for Christ.

For me, this has been the hardest lesson in my leadership experience, and it continues to be a hard reminder of the cost to truly surrender one's life to Christ.

I continue to be thankful for the spiritual Mothers and Mentors in my life who have shown me my own cookie trails, revealing and pointing out places in my life that needed the light of Truth. May I continue to embody the Truth of Christ Jesus with the help of God's Holy Spirit who fills me anew with God's graceful love each day.

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