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From “Cinderella With Amnesia – A practical discussion of the relevance of the church” by Michael Griffiths:
“The Bible talks about ‘the bride of Christ’, but the church today seems like a ragged Cinderella, hideous among the ashes. She has forgotten that she is supposed to be growing up…to be a beautiful lady! Many Christians can rattle off glibly the various biblical pictures of the church as ‘building’, and ‘body’, and ‘bride’; but in their experience, these ideas have never got beyond a theoretical stage, and they continue to be disappointed with , and disillusioned by, the church as they know it. I have often noticed … that many of the apparently individual problems of Christians, stem from the inadequacy of their congregational involvement, and their consequent dissatisfaction with the church.”, p. 7
“The younger generation is alienated by the hideous disfigurement, the repulsive ‘spots’ and ‘wrinkles’ of the institutional church, and is so disturbed and disenchanted that the church becomes an embarrassment to be explained away and replaced by new forms. As a result there is currently a noticeable retreat from corporate responsibility into a subjective stress on private experience…” p. 9
These words sound so contemporary but this book was written in 1975! The decline of the Christian church in western countries is not new. It’s not a fad.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
There are many reasons for the diminishing role of the Christian church in Western cultures but I just want to mention three.
1.Our focus on the individual (or obsession!) which influences our perspective when reading the Bible and even in our praying.
Even when the pronouns “we”, “us”, and “our” are used, we think instead of “me”, “my” and “mine”.
This is clearly obvious in the way we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Here are some of the key lines from that prayer:
- “our” father who is in heaven
- give “us” this day “our” daily bread
- forgive “us our” trespasses
- lead “us” not into temptation
- deliver “us” from evil
It has been my experience that most people do not see this as a corporate prayer for God’s people but a prayer focusing on their own needs.
NOT ALL CULTURES HAVE THIS FOCUS
I lived in South Korea for over ten years. This culture is very communal which is reflected in their language. Koreans are more likely to say “our house” and “our mother” than English speakers. They even say “our husband”! I told my Korean friends that if I ever find a husband he won’t be “our” husband, but “mine”, “mine” – all “mine”!
2. The limitation of the English language that does not distinguish between the singular “you” and the plural “you”. We often forget that the Bible was not first written in English. When applying scripture it can be confusing to know if “you” means one person or a group of people.
These two factors contribute to the third problem.
3. Applying passages of the Bible to the individual “you” when the intended “you” is a group of people.
Many of the passages of the Bible can be applied personally. I am so grateful for the many promises in scripture that belong to every believer and for the comfort found in many parts of both the Old and New Testaments.
However, parts of the Bible are addressed to specific groups of people, like Paul’s epistles to churches. Understanding the “you” to be referring to the individual, whether it is written “y-o-u” or just implied, can drastically change the interpretation of a passage and its application.
Here are just two examples of passages that are applied very differently depending on if the focus is individual or corporate.
a. THE LOVE CHAPTER
I Corinthians 13, often referred to as “The Love Chapter,” is most commonly used as a text read at weddings as a declaration of the love between two individuals and their commitment to one another. It is so appropriate for this occasion, but this is not the context of this portion of scripture.
The context is that this passage was written to a church, the church at Corinth. It was a church that had many problems that created divisions and disunity. 1 Corinthians 13 was written to remind them of how they were to treat one another and to remember that love is essential in the body of Christ.
Listen as I read this chapter and imagine what it would be like to have this read in a church service addressing the whole church, or during the Communion Service, or at the beginning of each church business meeting.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a part of a church that made these words central to their teaching and practice and not just limited to a great text for weddings?
If churches practiced these words, there would be less division and a greater impact on the lives of people in the church AND outside the church.
b. SPIRITUAL GIFTS
In the chapter just before this description of love, several spiritual gifts are listed, followed by an explanation of how there can be both diversity and unity in the church. Paul uses an analogy of the human body which is one unit made up of various parts.
That is followed by the statement, “Now (you) eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31, emphasis mine).
Who is being addressed?
Individuals have taken this to mean they should seek better gifts – different gifts than they have been given. Some denominations have stressed here the importance of seeking the gift of speaking in tongues. Regardless of which gift the individual considers better, it has created discontentment, envy, pride and division by (mis)applying a verse in a chapter focused on unity!
The context is Paul telling this church to seek the greatest gifts and 1 Corinthians 13 states that the greatest gifts are faith, hope and love and that the greatest of these is love (v.13).
Can you see how misunderstanding the “you” being addressed can lead to a different and potentially destructive application?
These limitations of our culture and language can be overcome by understanding how to read and study scripture. I will talk about this more in future podcasts.
I would like to hear from “you” (you figure it out!)
In these two episodes of Looking For More, I have mentioned some of the issues about the church and Christian discipleship that concern me. I would like to hear from you and know if you share the same concerns or if there are other issues on your mind.
There are several ways you can give me feedback:
DEEPER FAITH. GREATER JOY!