It all started when I learned that someone I used to work with (and who was, by virtue of the six degrees of separation project, more like one or two degrees away from me at any point in time, even though I no longer worked with him) who is, by all virtue of church, been ordained five or six times to the bishopric, went to prison. (Before you all raise your eyebrows, let’s consider that there is a reason he and I no longer work together, and reasons why we never will work together again, and it’s because I really don’t desire to go to prison, or to get sued, which is what almost happened to me as a result of working with him, something I now consider minor given some of these new things he’s up to these days.) The charges are identity theft and attempt to obtain property by virtue of fraud (more commonly known outside of North Carolina as larceny). If this wasn’t bad enough, he is trying to take other people around me who are much closer to me than six degrees along with him, including getting their houses raided and church buildings overturned, including the removal of property for evidence. Does this sound like a mess? sure, it does. What is perhaps the most disheartening is this is not the first time this individual has been arrested, on these same exact charges, and last time (at least), he re-found his niche scheming through the church as people handed their ministries and churches to him, no questions asked, only to drive them all in the ground. So yeah, a lot of people are noticeably angry, feel hurt because they were deceived by him because they wanted to believe the best of him rather than the worst, but I also know that, once he eventually gets out, he’ll charm into some other warm-hearted Christian people’s lives, who want to believe people can change, who want to believe repentance is real…and he’ll start his schemes all over again.
Then last night I was looking for a new book to read and I fell upon a small book, “The Church In Ruins: Brief Thoughts On II Timothy, Paul’s Last Letter To The Church” by Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr. I remember how I happened to intercept this book: I got it for free when I ordered some Bible thing off the internet last year. It isn’t a book I would spend money on. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend people buy it. But, I figured, it looks like something I can read in one sitting.
To say I was in a “church in ruins” mood was a bit of an understatement. I was not having a good night and I wanted something to suit my not really good mood. Yeah, I get tired of not being able to buy myself a car out of necessity when those who don’t even tithe go and buy themselves a second and third car that they really don’t need. I get tired of trying to make an international ministry run off tithes and offerings when I know there are people who can do better out there who just don’t want to do it. And yes, I get tired of struggling to even have the opportunity to preach somewhere when charlatans are handed ministries and people tell me how my “gifts will make room for me.” Apparently the “gift” I must need is the gift of deception. Then we have the story of how I literally took a man off the street last year, only to have people start rumors that I had to account for and have him throw a fit and behave badly in front of ministers very important to me, simply because he didn’t get his way about something. Or the numerous other times that people took advantage of my good nature, or tried to discredit the ministry…or…or…or…
But, I digress. The rants of a preacher in the modern church. Intermission is over now, nothing more to see here.
I think the thing that struck me about the book is the casual way in which it validates people’s decision to stay away from church, rather than be the church. It is based on a strange form of dispensationalism (ok, yeah, all dispensationalism is a little strange, but this one really takes the cake) that over-emphasizes the writings of the Apostle Paul and takes them to a level that they were never intended to go, pitting Paul’s writings against those of the Gospels and other New Testament writers. In the process, the book (and theory behind it) presents its case that the church has been in apostasy since the time of Paul, because parts of the church rejected his teachings (his “new Gospel,” as they call it) and that the church body (they call “religion” – i have already written on why we need to stop shaming religion before) as an entity, is completely in “ruins” today. They say the only answer is to stay home, not attend services, that women are the reason these churches exist (basically they accused all women of being weak and spiritually undiscerning and forcing their husbands to attend church against their will – we’ll leave that alone for the time being because Anthony Bordain is coming on TV in a few minutes and I don’t have enough time to break down that veil of stupid), and that there is no hope for church as we understand it, because its devoid of God….and that we should just give up on church, all together, forever.
I sat there, my back against the pillows, with my arms crossed and a scowl on my face. Surely that wasn’t the response I anticipated to have. I wanted to read something that gave me permission to be mad at the church. Instead, I just got mad at the stupidity of the book’s author.
If we look over the words coming from the church, the things people say, the complaints people have, it sounds very much like it is in “ruins.” Someone might even say that what the author of this book wrote “makes sense,” as the numerous comments in the front of the book would testify. It’s clear that even people who seem to espouse the Bible want to see the church fail and offend the sensibilities of believers. The media loves stories of wayward ministers, of preachers who wind up in prison, or who kill themselves, or who don’t quite live up to what you would think preachers should live up to. Even if you listen to our statuses, comments, thoughts, and ramblings, we are so often correcting, complaining, or ranting about things we see that are wrong.
I’m not suggesting we ignore the things that need correcting in the church. If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you know better than that. I am a well-established realist and occasional cynic, and I think those characteristics are a part of my unique charm. I agree that we need to be real about church and be real in ministry, and the reason for this is because the church is worth fighting for. The attitude that we need to just flee from the church and think and believe whatever it is we desire without being a part of the church body is not acceptable. If we all just depart from church and start doing whatever we want, we are no better than those who do whatever they want while they are in church.
Until Jesus comes back, there will forever be Elmer Gantrys, Sonny Deweys, Jonas Nightengales, Peter Popoffs, Rev. Ikes, and yes, preachers like even the one I know personally who is now in prison. But maybe the reverse of these people is the truth that there are good people, holy people, even sincere people who believe God can turn lives around, even the worst of the worst. And even though there will always be charlatans, waiting to exploit the sheep and take advantage, there will also always be leaders like me, like you, like those who read this and know the calling present on their lives, and know that, despite the bad days, the lack of funds, the stress, the heartache, the betrayal, and the obstacles that seem impossible to overcome, the church is worth fighting for. We need to never forget that there are good people, noble people, honorable people, and yes, holy people, still alive and well in church, doing the things the church is supposed to be about, embodying the good principles and trying to live God’s Word as best they can, and trying to live and reach people for the Gospel.
A holy, church remnant, maybe. Ruins? Never. The gates of hell shall never prevail against her. If you aren’t already, start fighting for her.
(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.