I Don’t Want People With Different Experiences
Over the last few weeks we have been looking at the problem of growth that the church has dealt with for the last 2,000 years. We know that the church needs to grow because it is in God’s plan for His church to do so and we have also looked at the fact that Jesus said that it would. But as we look through the scriptures we run into a real problem.
We started by looking at the fact that sometimes I am not very evangelistic because there are some people out there that I am afraid of, and other times I don’t want people who make me uncomfortable because they are from a different culture. But thankfully God has a better idea.
When we try to decide who gets in and who doesn’t we create real problems and miss out on an awful lot of joy. Since we all come in to the family through the blood of Christ, then maybe we should pay attention to what Christ says about growing a church. Look with me at the Parable of the sower found in Matthew 13:1-9. (Read Text)
The parables that Christ told have so many different facets that we could spend a good month studying each one, but I only want you to get a mustard seed from this parable today. What was the job of the Sower?
Was it to look at the ground and decide if it is worth wasting the seed? No if that was the case then he would have never sowed on the path.
Was it his job to prepare the ground before sowing the seed? If that was the case then all of the rocks would have been removed before he sowed the seeds.
Was it his job to wait and see if the ground could produce a good crop? No if that was the case he would have known that the weeds were there.
I believe that Jesus is using this parable to tell us that we must sow. If the hearts are hard, it is our job to sow. If they don’t have the initiative to stick with the change that will come in their lives it is our job to sow. If they cannot turn loose of the things of this world it is our job to sow.
That was Paul’s understanding. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. Paul sowed, that was his job. He allowed God to worry about the increase. And I believe that why he was the most successful evangelist that the world has ever known.
You see it is our job to sow the word but if I do that then it might cause problems because I may not want people who haven’t been through the same process of growth that I have.
In Acts 15 we see that the early church had the same sort problem that many churches are still having with growth. Apparently the Christians who converted from Judaism were teaching that before you could become a Christian, you had to become Jewish. The idea was that since Jesus first came to the Jews; you would need to adopt the Jewish mindset so that you could then become a Christian. The biggest struggle with this teaching became evident when they started demanding that the Gentile converts keep the the Law of Moses by being circumcised, as well as keeping the Laws of Christ.
Let’s look at Acts 15: And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses" (Acts 15: 1,2,5).
Cultural diversity in the early church was God's will, and it was probably the biggest struggle that the young church faced. How are two groups that are as far a part as the Jews and Gentiles going to find unity with one other? As we see in the text Godly people came to an impasse over matters growing out of their backgrounds and training.
The heart of the problem was linked to being right with God. We all bring our traditions and baggage with us where ever we go. In the Jewish faith they taught that the Law Moses was kept to show their devotion to God. Every since these Jewish Christians could remember, they kept the Law of Moses as a way to show their love and allegiance to Yahweh. After all it was what their parents, and grandparents before them had done.
Don’t fool yourself by thinking that there was backhanded efforts going on, I really believe that these Jewish Christians really wanted the Gentiles to receive Jesus as the Messiah. The problem comes from the fact that they assume that could only be done in the same way and under the same traditions that they had come to know Him.
Every since the death of Christ we have struggled with the idea that the gospel is all we need to find salvation. We like rules, we like traditions, because they are safe and well defined. But there has always been something scandalous about grace. Jesus says that grace makes a father run out to meet the son that wished he was dead and spent all of his money on harlots and wild parties. Jesus says that grace makes sure that the person who worked in the vineyard for an hour gets paid the same wage as the one who worked a full day in the heat. And grace means that folks who have different traditions and baggage are welcome to come to Christ through the same blood that ushered us in.
If you were brought up doing one thing sometimes it is hard to change in mid stream. It was true for the Gentiles who were struggling with changing their whole lives and going from many gods to the one true God. And it was true for the Jews who had lived a life of laws, and circumcision. That is why Paul and Barnabas had to go meet with the Christians in Jerusalem.
I often go back to that Counsel in Jerusalem. There are folks who come to know Jesus and they have some pretty weird ideas. There are some folks who come from different parts of the world and they have a very different idea of what a church community and a worship service looks like. I have a friend who was not raised in the states, and his idea of a worship service is a bunch of folks sitting around a table sharing a meal and discussing scripture. They eat a little, sing a little, pray a little, share a little, and commune a little. When he came to the states he faced church shock.
There is so much depth to the conclusion of the Jerusalem meeting that we read about in Acts 15. In verse 19 we see that they decided that, they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. They understood that God did not want everyone to become Jewish; He wanted them to become Christians.
I truly believe that we want the same thing today but we must be honest enough to admit that sometimes we struggle with those who have different traditions than we have. Growing up in a military home I had the opportunity to live and worship in San Francisco, New Orleans, Arlington, Nashville, and Atlanta. You can be sure that I have a different church experience than those who had the opportunity to grow up and worship in Port Arthur their whole life.
I don’t believe that one is right and one is wrong, I just believe that different backgrounds lead to different beliefs. Or another way to put it is that depending on your upbringing there are things that are a matter of fellowship with some that to others are a non-issue.
Let me give you a pretty safe example: When I was a student at Faulkner a group of us would stay up until 3:00 in the morning, every morning, playing spades. One evening a Bible major was passing through our lobby where we were playing cards and saw the excitement. The next day he approached me and told me that he was concerned for my soul because he saw me playing cards.
I was a bit confused and asked him what he was talking about. I grew up going to church card parties. I had even seen the preacher cheat at cards. But for the first time in my life at the age of 19 I learned that playing spades was punishable by eternal damnation.
I really believe that the guy who confronted me was as honest and sincere as he could be. I believe that he wanted to do right and wanted me to do right, but he and I had a different process of growth, growing up. I was the Gentile and he was the Jew.
Maybe my illustration was a bit to simplistic; the truth is that there are some christians who have a little check list to see if someone is worthy to be saved. Were you raised in a Christian family? What types of books and blogs do you read? What do you wear to church? How many cups do you use for communion? How do you spend the churches money? What version of the Bible do you read? What songs are you allowed to sing during worship? Do you have a sanctuary or auditorium?
There are those in the body of Christ who really believe that if you have ever sung, Just a Little Talk With Jesus, in worship then you are not worthy to enter the Kingdom of God. What we have forgotten is that there is no one in this room, city, or state that is worthy of being saved. Paul says that it is a free gift, regardless of how you got here.
What we need to decide is what type of Church do we want to be. I think that we have three choices:
The first type of Church is the Native Church. Natives are people who are comfortable with their own culture. They aren’t very interested in anyone else’s culture. In fact, they think they are normal and everyone else is strange.
The only people a native church is going to attract are people who embrace that cultural norm and the language, music and ministries that express it. You know immediately when you walk into a native church. It is obvious that they aren’t used to visitors and, in fact, suspicious of them. They talk a lot about change agents. Change is a tool of the devil and anyone who espouses it is an enemy of the truth.
Native churches grow almost exclusively by membership transfer.
The second type of church is a Conquistador church. These churches are different than the Native church, but not by much. They recognize the mandate of Matthew 28, that Christians are to go into all the world and preach the gospel. And they pursue that mission with zeal. But they insist on taking their culture with them.
The gospel according to the conquistador Christians is, Repent and accept our version of Christianity as the only true way. Come on in, take a pew, but don’t touch the stereo. When you look enough like us, we’ll think of you as one of our own. Conquistadors accept you only after they’ve conquered you.
Thirdly, there are immigrant churches. These are the churches that truly know where home really is. Immigrant churches, and Christians, recognize that there is a difference between their own religious culture and the gospel of Jesus. They realize that there are certain things they are comfortable with, certain ways of expressing their faith that they like and are familiar with and even long cherished. But they are willing to relax or even let go of those things if it means accepting someone who is different.
They know how to squelch the gag reflex. You know what that is don’t you?
Norman Schwartzcof tells an interesting story in his autobiography. His father was an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He once traveled with his father to visit some Bedouins. They were welcomed into a large tent where their hosts had spread a traditional Bedouin feast. The centerpiece of the feast was a camel, fully cooked, but still mostly in tact. The chief of the Bedouin tribe immediately took a liking to young Norman and offered him the choicest morsel on the table; the camel’s eye ball. Schwartzcof writes that his father didn’t even have to look at him. He knew what he had to do. He popped that eyeball in his mouth and swallowed. And kept it down. Any other response would have been an unforgivable insult. He squelched the gag reflex.
Helping people feel welcome and accepted is more important than suiting your own tastes. Immigrant Christians know that. They know that Jesus had to do a lot of gagging when He immigrated from heaven to earth. And when you are seized by Jesus, you follow in His steps, no matter where they take you.
So I know that you want to the church to grow, but do you want any more people? What about people who have not been through the same process of growth that you have?
Remember what God wants - All who are burdened with sin.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" Matthew 11 :28-30.
And all who want to be saved.
And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely Revelation 22:17
God wants every one regardless of their past growth process. You see it is our job to sow only God can provide the increase.