I reckon God has a good chuckle at our self-assured theological convictions at times. In my case, I think God changes me and moulds me more into his character by using his sense of humour in a gentle, correcting, loving way.
A few years ago I went through a period where I would be critical of a particular denomination. When I saw the type of books that this denomination had in their bookstores and some of the churches I’d been to, and what I’ve heard come out of the mouths of some of its ministers, I have been adamant that I would never want to be part of a denomination that was so wishy-washy about what they believed in the name of being inclusive.
Then, guess what happened? Yep, my wife and I started going to a church of that very denomination. And we both came to the decision to go to that church independently of each other, after prayer and thinking. We loved the preaching there and knew some really good people who had been going there for years. I definitely put it down to a “God thing.” It was like God said, “you want to criticise that denomination? Ok, I’ll send you there to find out more about it.”
The same has recently happened with me regarding the church I’ve started going to in the last month or so. It is also of a particular denomination (different to the previous one) that I have been critical of for some years. Not always, but when I’ve thought about it, I have been quick to come up with areas where this denomination just doesn’t get it when it comes to what the Bible story is all about.
I’ve recently been thinking and praying about what church to commit to. There have been a number of them, all of which I have seriously considered. It had pretty much come down to two for me; the church I’d been to a few times recently and which is not too far from home, and another one which has excellent teaching on how faith relates to our culture.
I had been leaning more towards the latter church…until last week. The service last Sunday (at the church of whose denomination I have been critical) was a game-changer for me. I actually went there as part of my work with the non-government organisation I work for. The church was one of quite a few around Australia that was taking part in what is called Justice Sunday. It is a day to highlight God’s passion for justice and his preferential option for the poor.
There are a number of reasons I was so impressed. Firstly, the person leading the service gave a clear and eloquent description of why God cares so much about justice, and therefore why the Christian mandate is to do the same. He was passionate and obviously had strong convictions about what he was saying. He and the pastors also spoke about the difference between justice and charity – not something the church often speaks about. It didn’t come across like lip-service. They seemed to really get it.
Then they showcased a new webpage devoted to social justice that is attached to the church’s website. Quite honestly I need to say that it is probably the best justice page of any church that I have seen. It has excellent resources, an excellent description of what justice is, again, clarifying the difference between justice and charity, and it highlights quite a number of different organisations that make a huge difference for justice in God’s world.
For the next few days my thoughts were that if a church is so keen on getting a real handle on God’s passion for justice, then that is a church I want to be involved in.
So, once again I am at a church whose denomination I used to criticise but where I believe God wants me to be for now. There are still some parts I’m not so keen on (do we really need to give Jesus a clap after a worship song?!), but no church is perfect and I need to show the grace I’ve been given.
I’ve been seeing in the last little while how judgmental I can be, and I think God is, in his own gentle, loving way, showing me that he has it all in hand, that he works where he wills, not where I think he does. If God has placed me at this church for this season in my life, who am I to go against that?