I was watching an old TV program recently when two of the show’s protagonists got into it with a small band of hoodlums. While the real fighter was occupied with most of the gang, his weaker partner punched one of the bad guys in the shoulder. The gang member immediately crumpled into a heap. As it turned out, the thug had a dislocated shoulder.
Later, as they were walking away from the alteration, the puncher began bragging to his stronger colleague about his knockout blow. His partner shot back, “He was injured!” The braggart immediately replied, “Somebody gotta fight the injured! It’s my niche!”
I laughed out loud at that. Then it got me thinking. Sadly, it sounds a bit like the church.
Laying on the Battlefield
Someone once said that the church is the only group of people that shoots its own wounded. The guy in the TV show wasn’t inflicting extra pain on one of his own, but (all too often) we in the church do exactly that. When someone in our midst stumbles and falls, rather than help, we tend to pile on. Either that, or we leave them laying on the battlefield, alone and defenseless.
There are individuals in the church that perpetuate these things. They call themselves “fruit inspectors.” If one of their brethren doesn’t produce the kind of spiritual fruit these produce examiners deem to be adequate, these fruit police attack them. Heaven forbid they find a flaw in one of those weaker brethren. They swoop in like vultures. Believe it or not, they think it’s their niche.
The obvious byproduct of these actions is, in part, an exodus from today’s church. People are leaving in droves. There are many reasons for the migration, but the attitude of the fruit inspectors is one of them.
The overarching commandment of Jesus was, and is, to love. I realize there’s such a thing as tough love, but some of us get a bit ridiculous about it. For some reason, it seems easy for some folks to get carried away. Being tough doesn’t necessarily require meanness or hostility. These holier-than-thou attitudes are killers.
He was quoting Scripture
The church has enough antagonists without us joining
the battle against our own ranks. Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was actually quoting Scripture when he said that (Mark 3:25). Love and unity are supposed to be watchwords and songs of the Christian gathering. Unfortunately, those central themes of Scripture seem to be lost on many of the fine folks in our congregations.
I’m not sure what it will take for us to learn our lesson. We cannot continue in our pathetic ways of trashing our own. It’s toxic and suicidal. We certainly have our differences, but (like it or not) we’re all sinners in constant need of God’s unending grace. Maybe we should act accordingly.
There’s an old Black spiritual that says, “I’m Gonna Stay on the Battlefield.” Maybe we should change it to, “I’ve been stranded on the battlefield.”
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]