I’ve worked in a church environment for over 20 years. Prior to that (and since then) I watched my dad operate in a church environment. I’ve served six churches and worked alongside seven preachers. Through it all I have heard on numerous occasions an expression that, until now, hasn’t troubled me. It has aggravated me but never troubled me until recently. The expression has been uttered anytime a discussion has taken place about the church moving forward. I have no doubt it has been expressed with sincerity and in the best intentions. It goes something like this: “Well, we’ll have to have a few more deaths before we can do that.” A preacher I used to work with would put a humorous twist on it by saying, “We’ll have to have a few more dirt naps before that will happen.”
There are some fundamental problems with that expression. First, WHO has to die before a given congregation can move forward in a certain area? The assumption is that this person (or these people) are old and nearing death. My guess is it is referring to church members who have been Christians for a long time, probably most of their adult life. Why do they have to die before church leaders can proceed to move in the direction God wants that particular body of believers to go? Why is the body of Christ paralyzed by “mature” Christians? Time and time again I have heard the same old cliches: “We don’t want to offend them” and “We want to maintain peace and unity.” I’m all for peace in the church. And I’m opposed to offending people just to get my way. But how long will we continue to maintain the status quo in the church just to keep grumpy, belligerent, divisive senior citizens happy? I thought they were the mature ones. I thought they’re the ones who are supposed to set the example of humility, peace, forbearance, and patience. But, instead, the church loses new Christians and young Christians because we continue to placate to the vocal minority.
Second, WHY do certain people have to die before the church can progress? The premise is that older Christians cannot be taught the truth because they cannot or will not accept it. It’s assumed that they are too set in their ways. I don’t buy it! Isn’t waiting for certain people to die an admission that we do not truly value those people? And isn’t it just taking the easy way out? It’s much more challenging and time-consuming to confront, teach, explore together, and work together to settle differences. Waiting it out is easy.
Third, to use such a phrase is an admission that we know God wants one thing, but we’re going to do something else instead. Is God really in charge of our churches? Is HE the one we are trying to please? How can we say yes to those two questions while continuing to wait for certain people to die off? To do so is putting total control of the church in the hands of a few people.
I’m not saying that church leaders should just run over people with no concern for anyone who disagrees. People will always disagree with any decision that is ever made by church leaders. Those who disagree must be lovingly and respectfully taught the truth. This is why it is imperative that church leaders study and know the scriptures. Give people a forum through which to express their opinions. But when the voices have been heard, sound off the truth and proceed to follow it. If it’s an area of opinion, keep it there and stop allowing ignorant people to make it law. Being controlled by ignorance is one of the biggest problems the church has had over the last 30 years. How many more deaths have to occur before we say, “ENOUGH!”?
The first-century church dealt first-hand with this issue. Christianity was a slap in the face to many Jews. Even Jewish believers struggled with letting go of many of their Jewish ways of old. Circumcision was the hot button of that day. And what about Gentiles (pagans)? Surely they couldn’t be a part of the new covenant? When did Peter ever say, “We’ll have to wait till some old crusty Jewish believers die before we start welcoming Gentiles into the fellowship”? Or when did Paul say, “After a few dirt naps take place, we’ll stop asking Gentile Christians to be circumcised”? These men moved FORWARD in faith! They didn’t trample all over people with no concern for them, but they spoke the truth plainly and boldly and moved forward from there. Why can’t the church do the same today?
The only death that needs to take place for the church to move forward already took place 2000 years ago on a wooden cross on Calvary. Isn’t that the only death that really matters?