Updated: Apr 10
Stained glass windows and cross steeples
Where is the love of God among His people?
God has made of one blood all men
But halos can't mask the intolerance within
Are the doors of the church really open to all humanity?
Will legalism be the gatekeeper for those who seek to come in?
I started this blog with a short poem to set the tone for my blog topic this month. It is important to note that the church is not a building, although we come together to worship in a physical structure. The church is a body of believers. I will reference both the building and the people in this blog post. First, let me do a bit of a disclaimer. I am not a member of the clergy, nor am I a pastor. I am a teacher, so it is my nature to open up your understanding and make things plain and simple. My intent is not to convert anyone but rather to show how Jesus was open to people from all walks of life. It is my hope that we can all learn how to be more tolerant of others. Whosoever will, let him come!
The nation is in the grips of a pandemic that has caused many of us to alter our lifestyles. The freedom we took for granted to go and come as we pleased was snatched away from us by an invisible virus called COVID-19. This virus caught all of us by surprise. It has taken the lives of over 500,000 people. Family members are left trying to cope with their loss alone, unable to say good-bye to their loved ones due to COVID restrictions. This crisis took a toll on the economy. People lost their jobs due to closures and shutdowns. Families who lost income required assistance to help feed their families. There was a call for unity in defeating the spread of this disease. The entire country immediately enlisted into the service of fighting this unknown force. We armed ourselves with gloves and masks to contain the spread of the disease. But this virus operated in stealth mode. Some people are symptomatic, showing signs of infection. Others are considered asymptomatic, showing no visible signs of the disease, but the virus is still present.
I submit to you that another virus is lurking among us, bringing division and a Pharisaical sense of self-righteousness within the church. This disease is called the virus of legalism. This virus hides behind stained glass windows. It's hidden in the undertones of hallelujah and amen. It dwells in asymptomatic individuals and religious institutions who show no outward signs of infection but are spreading this virus to other members of the body of Christ. Although this virus has many variants that can appear anywhere, this blog will focus solely on the black church.
With all of the chaos going on in this world, people need an outlet. They have labored and are carrying heavy burdens both mentally and physically. They are knocking on the doors of the church to find help in their time of need. They don't want to feel judged or condemned but accepted and loved. Figuratively speaking, the doors of the church should be open, but are they? I've said many times that the church, specifically the black church, has been a spiritual buffer against this world's trials and tribulations. However, this has not always been the case. Many people find that the judgment robe comes on once the doors open and the stone-throwing begins. The saints, or the church folks, are overly concerned with making people change outwardly with a list of do's and don'ts. Don't wear that, don't listen to that type of music, don't talk to that person, and the list goes on and on. One would almost have to ask, "Where is God in all of this?" To add balance, I am by no means advocating lawlessness within the church. But when we start dwelling on trivial matters, we miss the point of salvation. The work of salvation is not a list of do's and don'ts. It begins with the inner man, not the outer man. It's a process. It is a relationship with God and not an adherence to rituals.
People often find that they are dealing with legalism in the church on two fronts: the institution and its members. After fighting a war outside the church in our current situation, it's unfortunate that people join churches only to engage in a battle of legalism with members and the institution as a whole. The church should not be a revolving door of wounded souls where people are coming to seek healing but are left in a worse state than when they arrived (Matt 23:15). This is not the church. I often question whether the church knows what manner of spirit they are of (Luke 9:51-56). The mean-spiritedness within the church has got to stop. The church is quick to throw stones of judgment and accusations against a brother or sister who has fallen short in their walk. Jesus was crucified for them. Why does the church feel the need to crucify them further with their words? If we look a little further in some Christians' closets, I'm sure we will find a skeleton or two! Nobody's perfect. Put down the stones and pick up that agape (unconditional) love instead.
Let's see how Jesus handled those who came to Him. Let's see how He treated them in the scriptures. Maybe we could learn something. "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:1-2 NIV). Jesus didn't have a problem with being around people who were considered non-believers. He was open to whoever would listen. The Pharisees or the religious folks had a problem with it. It went against their traditions and beliefs. Jesus did not and would not conform to their legalistic views. He operated by the Spirit and not by what was politically correct. To add balance, notice that Jesus was always the influencer. He was not the one being influenced.
The story of the woman at the well is another example. I will paraphrase it for you. In John 4:1-42, Jesus, a Jew, meets a Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus was not moved by the differences in their religion. He strikes up a conversation with her and asks her for water. The woman was puzzled why Jesus would even speak to her because she was a Samaritan. The Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. Even the disciples were surprised that he was speaking with her. During this conversation, Jesus revealed things to her that were personal. Even though this woman was coming to a physical well, Jesus discerned what was going on with her spiritually. This woman has had five husbands, and the man she is currently living with is not her husband. Jesus spoke to her situation, and she was set free. He never rejected her or turned her away. She called him a prophet and felt so compelled to share her encounter that she left her waterpot and ran back to Samaria, the forbidden place for Jews, to share the good news. When the Samaritans heard the news, they sought Him out, and He stayed with them for two days.
The story of the woman caught in adultery is the last example I will use for this blog post. I will paraphrase it for you. In John 8:1-11, Jesus is teaching in the temple when he is interrupted by the scribes and the Pharisees. They brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery. When they sat her down, they told Jesus what she had done. They wanted to know what He was going to do about it according to the law. The scribes and the Pharisees had no reverence for the word of God, only for the law. They didn't show any compassion towards this woman. They were only concerned with her disobedience to the law. They even quoted the law to Jesus, stating, "Now Moses in the law commanded us, that she should be stoned; but what do you say?" He responded, "He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone." I can almost hear the crickets and a mic drop after that response! If you read even further, he engages in a back and forth session with the Pharisees and the scribes who constantly question him about the laws.
These are just three examples of many throughout the bible where Jesus dealt with people from all walks of life. It is my prayer that the doors of the church will be continuously open to whosoever will come.