the Church

The Church for Broken People

This week I was asked to write the St Thomas’s congregational letter.  I have been burdened by this truth recently…

Dear brothers and sisters,

There is a haunting, beautiful and, to be frank, depressing song by Radiohead which I came across for the first time in a few years last week.  Fake Plastic Trees has a haunting melody, which reinforces the lyrics about living in a broken plastic world.

She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins

It wears him out, it wears him out
It wears him out, it wears

She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love

 

Francis Schaeffer used to speak of ‘plastic’ Christians – those for whom outwardly everything is just fine.  Their life, family, work and church all give the impression of being whole and balanced. Of course being good evangelicals they will admit they are sinners – but broken?  No…Jesus has healed me.  This is not just the prosperity gospel people.   Reformed Christians have our own version of that as well.

I sometimes think that we are tempted to rewrite (or at least explain away) Scripture.  In our new version “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”, (Matthew 11:28)  now reads “Come to me, all you who are healthy and whole, and you can serve me”.

There is a cute image that we have of Jesus the chief shepherd looking after those lovely sheep and lambs wandering through the meadows.  But those of us who were brought up on farms know that sheep are smelly, dirty and not the smartest of animals.   The Lord’s people are messed up people – we are complex, confused and often broken.  And that is the wonder of the Church, Jesus comes to heal the broken hearted, mend the broken and beautify the ugly.  The bruised reed he will not break.    Which is why we as a church will always be open to all whom the Lord sends us.  If you are broken, wounded, hurt, confused and pained – welcome.  We have great news for you.  There is a Saviour.  There is healing.  There is rest.

Sometimes I fear that we forget that.  We think that the Church is only for those who have got everything together.    We want to belong.  And so we pretend.  We may look like the real thing, but we become plastic.   Fake, plastic Christians.   But we don’t need to.  The Lord knows, sees, loves and cares.  He knows what we are and he is remaking us – bit by bit, piece by piece, room by room.  The Church is beautiful not because it is filled with the beautiful people, but because Christ has died for her, wants her as his bride and will bring us to glory, clothed in glory.   The Church is beautiful not because we are beautiful, but rather we become beautiful because Christ beautifies the Church.

Sometimes we see only the ugly.  May we all be able to see the beauty of the Lord in us and upon our brothers and sisters.  And may we be confident enough to invite others, no matter who they are, to come and share in this greatest of gifts.

Yours in Christ

David

Why Should We Read, Hear and Trust the Scriptures?

 

19 comments

  1. Simply, thank you David. Beyond thankful for our wonderful Saviour and Healer. Reminds me of the hymn…Ransomed, healed, restored forgiven who like Him his praise shall sing, O praise Him.
    God bless you and your family, particularly at the moment.

  2. We do want to belong, and we do put on masks to be accepted. It’s the survival instinct. It’s much harder to survive on your own than belonging to a tribe. We also naturally are inclined to connection, being created in the image of God, with there being community wiht the three in one in the Godhead.

    So belonging is part and parcel of what it means to be both human and divine and explains why Jesus wept over Jerusalem, longing to gather people there but they would not let him.

    A recent experience for me with “church” was appealing to someone who regarded the book of Revelations as “frightening” to be encouraged by it, given that this was the intention in context. And that if we were living in 1930s Germany statistically, along wiht the state church we would be highly likely to be supportive of Hitler and his “positive Christianity” and we would be fooling ourselves statistically if we were to assume that we would prefer Bonhoeffers “confessional Christianity” and be rescuing Ann Frank. The response to this truth was hostile and to say I was being “ridiculous”.

    OK so offering comfort and truth didn’t work on that occasion wiht me being welcomed and listened to. And Jesus has things to say about what to do when not being welcomed or listened to.

    It is part of following Christ as you rightly say that a bruised reed he will not break, a smouldering candle he will no snuff out and to the weary and heavy laden he will give rest. So it’s right that in Christ no one is broken wiht his sustaining power. This is one thing that is attractive about Christ! That situations that might otherwise conspire to brokenness can be endured and though bruised overcome! I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and the joy of the Lord is your strength!

    I really don’t get this punishing self – identification as a sinner. In the biblical context Jesus used this term ironically to show the so-called “sinner” to be the righteous man and showing up the sin of the so-called righteous man. Elsewhere the term is an insult. Jesus being called a “friend of sinners” for example. Yes there is no-one righteous, not one, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And sin is devastatingly destructive, just look at any news headline as evidence of that. But in our true identity we are knitted together in our mother’s womb created by God, in his image to do good works that he has prepared in advance for us to do. Not without sin and in need of a saviour and Jesus being that for us his loving deeply covering a multitude of sins. all sins past present and future with his sacrifice of himself for humanity, so great is his love.

    Truth is freeing and love never fails. If the “church” generally speaking were to look at things differently to identifying people as sinners just as the hypocritical teachers of the Law did in Jesus time while plotting to kill him and rather go back to Genesis and regard everyone primarily as being created in the image of God though not without sin then perhaps we would sea a lot less plastic “positive Christianity” and a lot more authentic “confessional Christianity”.

    OK – rant over!

    1. If you don’t get that Christians are sinners you don’t get the Gospel. If we say we have no sin – we lie and deceive ourselves (1 John) – those who sin are sinners….everything else is just playing with words.

      1. My dear brother,

        “If you don’t get that Christians are sinners you don’t get the Gospel.” I hear your rebuke. I assume your intention is to have done that in love and truth.

        At the same time, you would say that wouldn’t you David? Show your appeal the Word of God not to your ecclesiastical tradition for the identification of Christians as sinners then I’ll give your claim consideration.

        As it is, your allusion to 1 John1:8 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” does not support your argument. I quite clearly support this principle with what I have mentioned above and there being “no-one righteous, not one, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” so there is a false dichotomy in attempting to make out that something other than that has been said.

        Yes, we are not without sin. I fear, brother, that you have missed out on the nuance of the argument I make. I offer that it is possible to consider ourselves to be created in the image of God in our identity and yet be thinking of ourselves as not being without sin. Therefore in Christ being a new creation.

        Please show me where this is not getting the gospel or addressing the issue and offering a contribution to solution to what you rightly highlight is an issue in the Church with “plastic Christianity.

      2. Confusion all round. We sin, but we are not sinners?

        And its not just Christians who are created in the image of God – all human beings are. And all human beings are sinners. Or are you just saying that only non Christians are sinners?

      3. “You are saying that Paul was wrong for calling himself a sinner!”

        My dear brother, it doesn’t help to read something into what is being said that isn’t there. Paul when he talked of being a “chief of all sinners” was being rhetorical. He was also rhetorical when he referred to those he wrote to at Corinth as saints, right before he went to talk about many things that were going on in the church including someone sleeping wiht his father’s wife – hardly the actions of a saint.

        I’ll try one more time. What I am appealing against is self – flagellation with identification as a sinner. And with the condescending finger pointing of identification of others as so-called sinners as the hypercritical teachers of the Law did.

        Paul as Saul, as you know, pursued followers of the way to the point of death and approved of the stoning of Stephen. What also comes to my mind is the “god is dead” of Nietzsche. In context:

        “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

        So what was the fruit of this way of thinking, of himself and others as murderers? Sadly for Nietzsche he went insane.

        It is insane to self flagellate and not receive the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. For Nietzsche spending his life looking to fill the space that had been left by the “murder” of God led to a decline in his mental health.

        So when Paul calls himself “chief of sinners” it is rhetorical knowing that he has approved of murder and yet knowing of the grace of God and that in Christ he is a new creation.

        Why deny the sacrifice of Christ on the cross David and the Word of God in favour of an ecclesiastical tradition of self flagellation combined wiht a heavy dose of hypocrisy and condescension toward others?

        Didn’t Jesus when facing an angry mob about to stone a woman accused of adultery say to the mob let he who is without sin cast the first stone? And then as no-one did, then say as no-one was condemning the women, neither would he?

        The Gospel message must surely be this that in the eyes of Jesus this woman is a human created in the image of God. And in the Old Testament there is the reasoning, ““Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

        I’ll leave it there for you to have the last word and show to everyone what a heretic I am. *wink*.

        It’s been a pleasure to wrestle through this with you David and I wish you a pleasant day.

      4. No Paul was not being rhetorical…please don’t play with words and especially don’t play with the Word of God. I will tolerate many things on this blog – but not that. All human beings are created in the image of God….and all (except Christ) are sinners. Your inability to grasp that basic scriptural truth is somewhat troubling. To state that human beings are sinners is not to deny the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross – but to confirm it. Jesus was not denying that the woman accused of adultery was not a sinner – precisely the opposite. He was just saying that other sinners had no right to condemn her – again proving my point. Anyway enough – I have no more time to waste on this obtuseness.

      5. And yet the evidence is in – you are a sinner (you do wrong things). Arguing otherwise is like arguing that the earth is flat!

    2. Again David, I fear you are missing the nuance. I hear that you are finding what I offer confusing. I shall try to be clear in what I am suggesting.

      We are not without sin, yes, but we don’t identify ourselves with sin, rather that we identify ourselves wiht out truest self, how humanity started your when God created humans and saw it was good, being made in his own image. And yes all humans are created in the image of God.

      So, the line between good and evil being drawn down ever human heart, it’s not to prefer to identify wiht the evil, but the good without ignoring the reality of the evil and addressing that too, cooperating fully with Gods transformative salvific work in us as a silversmith refines sliver.

      So I’m advocating a glass half full approach, the joy of the Lord being your strength, rather than a glass half empty approach that while it’s true ant no one is without sin, choosing not to identify wiht sin, but wiht Christ who’s sacrificial love covers all sin, past present and future.

      “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Phil 4:8).

      Does that make things any clearer for you with where I’m coming from, even if we disagree?

      1. No – as confused as ever….you are saying that Paul was wrong for calling himself a sinner! If only had your depth of theological insight and could see that he is not! Paul argues both for being in Christ and a sinner. I’ll stick with Paul.

  3. Are Christians not saints (Ephesians) … who sin, righteous in Christ, a new creation, in the last Adam? Our primary identity has changed in our Union with Christ, Christ in us, Holy Spirit indwelling. A new family, identity. We have been transferred to a new team to wear his robes of righteousness, justified. Indicatives all of it. Sanctified now, but not yet – a work in progress- imperatives.
    But that does not negate at any stage a brokenness that transpires from our recognition of our inability and weaknesses and sin.
    Neither does it admit a superiority, but an almost head shaking disbelief recognition of being lost and found, of being in sin, like even the worst.
    For without that, it is beyond easy to slide back, in the way we were.
    May Christ Jesus ever be before us.
    May the prayers of Paul, in Ephesians be answered and even more so, that of Jesus in John 17.

    1. Agreed with all. We are saints and sinners. We will not be free of sin until heaven. When Paul calls himself the chief of sinners, I don’t think any of us can say that we are not sinners!

      1. Please, Rev, saints cannot possibly be extant . As you know, that honour is bestowed post – mortem.

        I take it that you inadvertently omitted the word “potential” , and even then, more in hope than expectation ?

  4. In my upper middle class family in the American Midwest, we were taught, “It’s a dirty bird that dirties its own nest.” The saying meant to not discuss family problems with outsiders and bring embarrassment or disgrace to the family. And, even after becoming an evangelical Christian, it is hard to leave this cultural baggage behind.

  5. David, I have a vision of you reading these comments and muttering ‘it wears me out, it wears me out.’ Can I just say I found the message of ‘the church for broken people’ particularly uplifting – thank you.

  6. Francis Schaeffer used to speak of ‘plastic’ Christians – those for whom outwardly everything is just fine. Their life, family, work and church all give the impression of being whole and balanced. Of course being good evangelicals they will admit they are sinners – but broken? No…Jesus has healed me. This is not just the prosperity gospel people. Reformed Christians have our own version of that as well.

    Those plastic Christians who then expect the same plasticity from others — or impose it through sheer number. A real social trick, that one. As long as the struggle is banal or this sin isn’t as bad as that sin, then well, we can hang our heads in prayerful humility and speak of the saving grace and love of Jesus Christ. Just don’t be too real about it, m’kay?

    There are those plastic Christians who choose to be, and then the ones who put up their facade because to acknowledge their sin, or to speak of their struggle is to attract the distasteful stares, the side glances, the gossip. Jesus saves and yet you struggle with sin; Jesus heals and yet you’re still sick. You struggle with that?! God must have handed you over to it. God’s grace is sufficient!… for you, but you’re making us uncomfortable.

    And so we who want to be honest and authentic find ourselves suffocating under a social veneer that reflects not the life of Christ but the comforts of so-called modern civilisation. As it always has. The church will pray for you. The church will invite you in. The church will speak of love and grace and mercy. But every interaction comes with the footnote: ‘but what if they knew who I really was?’ As the decades go by what’s left but cynicism, scepticism, bitterness, and fundamental distrust.

    But I know better, and this letter is evidence of that. It’s much appreciated, David.

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