Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is the church responsible for the hardening of hearts? Am I?

"Listen. What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn't put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams."
St. Mark's Gospel 4: 3-8 (The Message Translation)

This morning my family and I attended the Ebenezer Evangelical Church in Motherwell. Olly had been invited to sing at their family service and shared the platform with a chap called Garry Blair... who is, as an aside, one of my dad's friends.

The whole meeting was fab... from the worship through to the message via the inspired songs Olly sang.

Blair focussed on the verses quoted above and spoke mainly about the soil the seed is sown on by the sower:
  • Hard, trampled soil... where the seed couldn't bed down.
  • Shallow soil... where the seed could bed down but had no room for putting down roots.
  • Crowded soil... where the seed was choked with weeds.
  • Good soil... where the seed could flourish and become productive.
He likened this soil to our hearts and spoke of the receptiveness of our hearts to Abba's love.

I thoroughly enjoyed his insight and his passionate delivery... and understand why my dad holds him in such high regard. He also got me thinking... wondering if the church is actively trampling on this soil. 

Now... before I unpack this thought... I don't believe the church is *solely* responsible for the hardening of peoples hearts. Some people just don't get it... and as Dunninger is quoted as saying...

"For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice."
For them no explanation will do. It's just not their thing.

But for others... where there was the possibility of fertility... someone or something that self-identifies with Abba has come along and trampled all over their soil.

Broken their hearts.

Let them down.

Directly or indirectly... intentionally or unintentionally hurt them.

And they've never forgiven the church.

Think of the kiddie-fiddling scandal that has rocked and continues to rock the Catholic Church. Think too of the folks who picket abortion clinics or speak out so vicariously with such assertiveness against same-sex marriage.

Think of the folks who 'heresy hunt' and look for the failings in the words/deed of others... or the folks who will openly condemn someone as being a 'false teacher' just because they don't agree with their particular outlook or theological expression.

I am concerned that each and every time we act in this manner... act in a way this isn't listed in the fruit of the Spirit... we are contributing to the trampling of their soil... or, in other words, we are contributing to the hardening of their hearts.

This truly frightens me... but it doesn't surprise me.

I actively try to distance myself from the more conservative folks within the broader church. I welcome their opinion but do not always welcome their expression.

But this isn't a left vs right debate... the more liberal within the broader church may also be guilty of 'soil-tampering'... but that's for another post.

What concerns me is how we are interpreted... how we are read in society at large. Some may not care but I do... because I believe it has an impact on reaching folks with the good news.

Afterall... what's good about it if it's delivered in a manner that can and is perceived as negative, unloving and downright hateful? If we are truly to "hate the sin, love the sinner" then surely there is a better way of engaging in debate?

I don't know all the answers... and personally believe we shouldn't be fighting a cultural war but promoting a viable alternative. The very notion of fighting a cultural war goes against the very heart of my faith... as I understand it.

We need to be in our world but not of it... but instead we are not in the world but behalf exactly like the world does. This needs to change.

As I said... I don't have all the answers on this... but I do firmly believe that we need to start living and truly owning the fruit as our own... displaying them in our actions and reactions.

"But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely."
Galatians 5: 22 & 23 (The Message Translation)

Imagine if we had compassion in our hearts for all people... considering everyone as our neighbours... and we simply loved them. We didn't need to force our way of life in this life... but were able instead to show a new way... The Way.

Imagine that?

Let's stop fighting... it's a start at the very least... let's stop everything we do that, in some way, tramples on the hearts of folks and start loving them... being compassionate to them... offering a viable alternative that may, in some small way, help to loosen their soil... soften their hearts... so that when the sower comes to sow His seed, they may be more receptive to it.

We are the hands and feet of Abba... it's time we acted as such.



  1. *Applauds*

    As one in the "just not their thing" category, I still welcome the rational discussions about faith (or lack thereof) that we've had - I don't hold the same viewpoints as you do, but I would never demand you stop holding said viewpoint.

    I firmly believe that being able to listen and respect another's viewpoint is the only way we'll ever grow as a species - we don't gain anything by sticking our fingers in our ears and going "la la la".

    It's fictional, but IDIC is something I can embrace and something we should strive for. In that regards, my own personal "beliefs" aren't that different from anyone else's.

    But it's the little differences that lead to the greatest interests...

  2. Well thought out post again, Thomas. I used to involve myself more in 'Christian' blogging and did a lot of online discussion and debate, but recently I've pulled myself away from that, due mainly to a lot of vitriol and a seeming lack of acceptance for differing views. After a while it gets tiring when people don't, or won't, listen. Lately I've been re-examining where I am and what I actually believe, so I don't really want to get involved in any online discussion of that nature. Having said that, I enjoy and appreciate what you are doing here with this blog, because I know that if we disagreed on something you wouldn't stop being my friend.

    My blog now is mainly books, movies and a little photography. The people I interact with on the book blog 'circuit' seem to be more courteous than many I have encountered on the 'Christian circuit'. I find that sad. We don't always appreciate each other's tastes in book or movies, but rarely is anyone put down for it. It's really helping me as I try to figure out where my life is headed right now.

    Thanks again for a very thoughtful post.