Mythbuster #1 Only The Church Shoot Its Own Wounded.

 “The church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.”  

Here at stephenmcalpine.com we bust myths – for free. So how about we start with the one above? Perhaps you have heard that saying.  It’s got a memorable ring to it and, for some, a ring of authenticity too. But is it really the case? Firstly, on a basic exegetical level its a dubious term for the church. Family, body, gathering, yes. Army – no.  But even in the face of those burnt by a bad church experience, is the church the only place, or even the worst?  Let’s bust this baby wide open:

Liberal Party/Labour Party/Greens Party/National Party/Family First Party/Trade Union Movement/Office/Sports Club/Local P&C/Boardroom/Bedroom/Hollywood/Big Business/Small Business/University/Army (yes it probably does actually happen in some situations)/Rotary Club/Lions Club/Apex/Fill in the Blank

A cursory glance at the last six months of a national newspaper would show just how many wounded get shot in organisations all over Australia.

100 per cent of comments from yesterday’s post (alright, 2 out of 2) noted that what makes a religion become beautiful, wise and true (to tap into Alain de Botton’s comment about religion) in the eye of the beholder is its people and how they behave.  Fairly obvious, but poignant nonetheless when we consider how some have felt trampled by the church.  Alan Jamieson’s A Churchless Faith is the seminal work of the past decade that conducted a qualitative and quantitative study of  those who had remained Christian, but left the church for a variety of reasons including deeply hurtful experiences.  The church has shot its own wounded on many occasions, and its witness is the worse for it.

However, when it hits the sweet spot, church can be amazing.  Having experienced both extremes of church I now realise that pain levels roughly parallel expectation levels.  Why is it so painful when it falls apart?  Perhaps because we are being unrealistic.  But also perhaps because of passages like Ephesians 4:17-32.  In the Graeco/Roman pagan culture such intimate, candid, self-sacrifical community must have been astonishing.  To many in a watching world the message of the gospel suddenly seemed beautiful, wise and true precisely because the Christian communal life looked like beauty, wisdom and truth. albeit in a fractured, on-the-road manner.

This has become more apparent to me with the recent conversion of a young couple through our church. They are astonished at the quality of what generally consider our fairly ordinary life together as God’s people. It’s as if a great secret has been kept from them all their lives. As I have looked with fresh eyes at our gathering, suddenly the beauty, wisdom and truth of the church becomes apparent, and I realise that God in his wisdom has ordained it this way.

Go through this list again with the triad of beauty, wisdom and truth:

Liberal Party/Labour Party/Greens Party/National Party/Family First Party/Trade Union Movement/Office/Sports Club/Local P&C/Boardroom/Bedroom/Hollywood/Big Business/Small Business/University/Army (yes it probably does actually happen in some situations)/Rotary Club/Lions Club/Apex/Fill in the Blank

I believe that nothing else comes close to the church in terms of bringing all three together.  Perhaps that’s why, when disappointment comes, it is so acutely felt.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Steve,

    Jamieson’s book would be very interesting to read. I have friends who have “detached” from a local church but are still faith-filled. For me this begs the question whether the “unorganised” relationships those people have with other christians are analogous to those in an “organised” local church; and then, whether one approach is right and the other wrong – or whether both are acceptable.

    I believe it is essential for a believer to be in association with other christians for encouragement, worship, challenge etc. So how does one achieve that end?

    I once held that one achieves that by being part of an “organised” local church but I am no longer as convinced that is the only option. Small groups, a weekly coffee with another accountable believer – perhaps those too are valid alternatives [as long as one doesn’t lose opportunities to worship with, to care for others and be cared for, to listen and be listened to, to challenge and be challenged – all of course by a trusted other].

    BTW It’s interesting that you use the word “church” but I don’t think you defined the term? I initially inferred you meant the organisational manifestation of the church, but I think you may be talking about a gathered group of believers? Is there a difference between associating with one or the other??? Does that definition actually have something to say about believers who detach from the organisation yet retain both faith and connections with other believers.

    Or is this just a tired Monday evening pontification on my part!???? “I feel better now” 🙂

  2. Hi Ian – you make some pertinent points, especially the whole idea about where the line is between belonging and simply hanging around on the edge. Organisational manifestation (OM) is an issue. Every expression is to some extent an organisational manifestation as I have found out in both traditional and more edgy missional settings. It’s just that some get the level where the OM required requires clear and ongoing structure. Surely in our western culture we err on the side of detachment and a low-bar level of community. However Tim Keller makes some interesting points about how when we think we are doing close community we inevitably bump into a group doing it “tighter” or “better”. Keller says that the Amish seem tight, until you meet the Auca tribe of Ecuador who have no walls in their homes! Will explore this stuff in the future

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