Do the hungry, lonely, addicted, poor people in my community care about Predestination and Free Will? Does the single mom struggling to raise her kids care about whether a woman should speak in church? Does the alienated, non-white teen boy who needs a place to play with other kids want to discuss dispensationalism or eschatology ?
Even more important, did Jesus give the woman at the well a theology lesson or did he show her love? Love came first. Forgiveness and teaching came later.
As I search for a church where I can settle in for hopefully a long time, I have prayed and asked God for help because this has been a very difficult process. Last Sunday while praying , these are the thoughts that came to me. Thoughts about what to look for in a church. I had been searching unsuccessfully for a church that met my standards of theology. I decided to ‘visit’ a church that I attend weekly for a non-denominational, very Bible-focused, Bible Study called Community Bible Study. I’ve been attending the Bible study for many years, but I do not attend this church. Why? Because it is a more liberal denomination than I normally attend, Methodist to be exact. They have a male and a female pastor. I’m not sure of their exact theology, but I know it is not the same as the one that I believe to scripturally correct.
We left our last church partly because we were not comfortable with what we considered very light sermons and poor Sunday School curriculum. Think Beth Moore and Lifeway. I like to go deep! Yes, I am one of those that modern ‘pastors’ often scorn , that enjoys learning theology. I am not a fan of lessons that are more interested in how I interpret a verse. I do believe that God had a meaning in mind when he gave the words to the authors of the scriptures. God is teaching us something in his Word and it is not different for everyone who reads it. Also, the Old Testament is not old news. Jesus constantly referenced Scripture from the Old Testament! We need to learn the whole Bible , not just the Gospels or the Book of Acts. “Those are just your beliefs”, you might argue. Yes, but I do consider some beliefs to be true and correct and not flexible if they are based on careful study of the Word of God. Truth is not relative. One thing I am finally realizing, though, is that the message underlying every verse is the same, that ‘ since the beginning, from Adam until now, people are completely unable and unwilling to do the right thing, according to God’s holy standards, 100% of the time, which is why Jesus demonstrated his love for us by dying in our place for our sins to save us from eternal damnation and separation from God.”
That said, back to my point, do the non-church going, or occasional visitors, who are in social or emotional crisis care about theology at the time they come looking for help? I doubt it. Will they possibly be open to learning about the truth later, I think so. I would venture to say that many people move to a small town and feel pretty isolated and lonely. Or maybe they’ve lived there all their lives and were doing okay without God, in their mind, but now they have lost their job, or have cancer, or need a friend, or one of many reasons that can make a person start to feel helpless and consider looking for help. They ask around and people say, this church has this to offer. They go and ask. They meet kind people offering help in Jesus’ name. This may be God’s way of softening and preparing their hearts to receive salvation, we don’t know. Even if we believe in Predestination, we don’t know who is going to be saved, so we must serve first and then evangelize! Do some of them take advantage of the generosity of churches, even visiting many churches to get as much as they can? Yes, but that is between them and God.
So why can’t I find a church that preaches the whole truth and nothing but the truth and does it based on a Biblical model (in my favorite style) , that also has programs that help the unsaved? Does serving the public make a person care less about theology? Does looking into the eyes of the lost cause one to have so much compassion that they forget they these people with immediate earthly needs are going to hell unless they understand their need for Christ’s forgiveness? Or am I expecting too much, which is often the case for me. Am I being too focused on MY preferences and my love of learning? Is it the perpetual teacher and student in me that has blinded me to see this tendency until now? Maybe I should stop looking so hard for theologically focused sermons and should focus more on how they demonstrate Christ’s love and then leave the saving up to God, where it actually starts anyway. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 The good news is this church does offer advanced level Bible study , so I may get the best of both worlds!
After all, the greatest commandment according to Jesus himself is to love God with all your soul and mind, and to LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF, not, love God and debate your hungry, sick, lonely, neighbor over theology.
In case you’re wondering, I went to this church on Sunday and the sermon really spoke to me. It was based on Matthew (NOT Acts, thankfully! ), the familiar Beatitudes. The preacher brought out how we who are saved are #blessed, or #happy, or #makarios, even when we are not getting new Lamborghinis from our pastor husbands or going on vacation getting a promotion or whatever social media event our friends are sharing. We have everything we need in Christ alone. Our blessing is Christ. Our happiness comes from the knowledge that Christ is working in us to make us more like him. Obedience to the message of the cross leads to happiness which we can have despite our circumstances. There was absolutely nothing said or done in the service that I felt would lead people away from God’s truth. I’m thankful that God is still working on me, a stubborn, slow learning, often lazy and selfish, sinner saved by Grace! In fact, writing this has helped me see that I do not have to be so black and white. I can enjoy deep study and also show the love of Christ without the need to judge or be too eager to teach. I need to wait on the Spirit and trust God to do the saving.
PS: Here is a post I wrote a while back that should have answered my own questions on this topic. Like I said, I’m slow! God Really Loves Us!