Church: What is church hurt?
In talking about the church, we know many people, starting with Christians, who have had a painful experience with the church. The result is often a gnawing sense of guilt that they should be connected to a local body of believers, but some level of anxiety triggered by past troubles which keeps them at arm’s length. As pastors and ministry leaders, we have to admit that not only have we experienced church hurt from others, but that we have also created church hurt for others. Like any family, our church family can be complicated and messy.
Christ is perfect, Christians and our churches most certainly are not. The New Testament is painfully honest about this fact, and it was written to correct churches that had problems. For starters, in Revelation 2-3 we see Jesus as Head of the Church speaking to seven kinds of churches.
- The fundamentalist church: Ephesus
The fundamentalist church is typified by Ephesus. Jesus walked among this church spiritually, and the people were encouraged for serving faithfully, enduring hardship, having sound doctrine, and rejecting false teaching. Conversely, Jesus told them if they did not repent of their unloving and nonrelational Christianity, He would shut down their church.
- The persecuted church: Smyrna
The persecuted church is typified by Smyrna. This city was the center for emperor worship. Those Christians who refused to do so were marginalized or even martyred. Jesus had no rebuke for this church and told them that though they were financially poor, they were spiritually rich and would be rewarded generously in the kingdom for suffering in a godless culture.
- The heretical church: Pergamum
The heretical church is typified by Pergamum. Jesus encouraged them that they had not completely abandoned their faith despite suffering both physically and spiritually. In their city, Satan sought to establish the headquarters of his demonic counterfeit kingdom and the place “where Satan’s throne is” (Rev. 2:13). However, they were rebuked for allowing false-teaching wolves into their church who encouraged sexual sin and syncretism (living culture up instead of Kingdom down).
- The liberal church: Thyatira
The liberal church is typified by Thyatira. This church was encouraged for its social justice work of helping those in need, being kind and relational, and having a growing ministry. On the other hand, it was rebuked for also tolerating sin (especially sexual sin) and demonic false teaching from a false prophet and false prophetess, which brought suffering upon the church. The liberal church has some good deeds for the community but has a lot of bad deeds in personal morality and spirituality that opens the door to demonic deception.
- The dead church: Sardis
The dead church is typified by Sardis. Jesus had nothing good to say about this church, as it was godless, dead, and no longer experiencing the life of the Spirit. Jesus said the people looked alive on the outside but were spiritually dead, and they must repent quickly or experience the death of their church and be sentenced to hell for eternity. Sadly, there are a lot of dead churches that are still open on Sunday but not open to the Spirit.
- The faithful church: Philadelphia
The faithful church is typified by Philadelphia, a wealthy city known for its wine and its chief deity Dionysius, the demon god of wine and debauchery. Despite enormous cultural and spiritual pressure to indulge in every excess, the church did not give in to the demonic seduction to sin. Jesus only had good things to say to this church, as the people had endured hardship and been publicly slandered yet remained godly and patient.
- The lukewarm church: Laodicea
The lukewarm church is typified by Laodicea. This was an arrogant and affluent city built on a high place. They literally and figuratively looked down on everyone else. Jesus had nothing good to say about this church, which was little more than a comfortable place for rich people to gather. Jesus said their doors were basically locked and that even He had not been welcomed into their godless country club.
There are churches on the spectrum from amazing to abysmal. There are Christians in every church who are on that same spectrum. Which kind of church do you attend? Which kind of Christian are you? If we are going to be honest about churches, we need to also be honest about ourselves as Christians.
Adding to the problem of church hurt is the fact that what God creates, Satan counterfeits. One church, for example, was told, “the work of Satan…counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception…” [FOOTNOTE: 2 Thess. 2:9-10 (NLT)] If Satan sought to undermine and overthrow God’s Kingdom in Heaven, and tried again with Jesus ministry through Judas, we should assume that he also has a plan to attack our local churches. The Bible warns us over and over against these counterfeits:
- False Apostles – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Revelation 2:2-5
- False Prophets – Ezekiel 13:8-9; Matthew 7:15
- False Teachers – 2 Peter 2:1-9
- False Doctrines – 1 Timothy 4:1-2; Galatians 1:8, 3:1
- False Brothers – 2 Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 2:4
- False Elders – Acts 20:17-38
The truth is, sometimes, the people or teachings in a church that hurt us were not even Christian. Just like Judas was in Jesus’ ministry, but was not a believer, Satan uses this same tactic to cause as much harm as possible and have people confused thinking that it was done by God or God’s people. The result is division, which is demonic, that undermines unity, which is godly. Writing to the church about people sent by Satan into the church to cause division, Paul closes his letter to the Roman church warning, “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ…I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” [FOOTNOTE: Rom. 16:17-20]
What Satan hopes to do to you through church hurt is threefold.
One, he wants you to allow your hurt to become bitterness through unforgiveness. Since forgiveness invites heaven down into your life, and bitterness pulls hell up into your life, Satan hopes that you will become bitter against God, other Christians, and the church so that he can then recruit you in his war against God just as he did the angels who are now demons. He will even seek to convince you that your war against the church is for the Lord, which is part of his demonic deception.
Jesus’ heart for and commitment to the church should compel us to love and serve the church. In Ephesians 5:25 Paul says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The context in which Paul speaks is marriage, and without overstating the analogy he is saying that the church is like Jesus’ bride, whom he loves and serves despite all her faults and flaws. Those who ignore the church, criticize the church, despise the church, or even harm the church must seriously question whether they truly love Jesus and are his followers, since true Christians love and serve the church because Jesus does. To love Jesus and hate or even attack the church is like telling a husband that you want to be his close friend even though you hate his wife and will occasionally assault her.
Two, he wants to isolate you so that you are no longer close with fellow Christians. The reason justifying this isolation is that since you were hurt, you cannot heal, and relationships with Christians cannot be healthy. When the Bible first said it was not good for us to be alone, that was before sin even entered the world, and in a fallen world to be alone is to be in harm’s way. Jesus is a Shepherd who wants you to be part of a flock, and Satan is a wolf who want you to wander off from a flock so he can destroy you.
Being a Christian means being a Jesus follower, a disciple. His call to “follow me” means joining a group of disciples who, together, are the people of God. The New Testament uses collective metaphors to describe the church of Christ. They include flock, temple, body, and family or household. [FOOTNOTE: John 10:11–16; Acts 20:28–29; 1 Pet. 5:2–3. 1 Cor. 3:16–17; Eph. 2:21. Rom. 12:4–5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12–30; Eph. 4:15–16. Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19; 1 Pet. 4:17. Eph. 2:19–22; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 2:5.] Each of the images communicates the same big idea that God’s people are to remain together. Sheep die individually but live as a flock, fed and protected by a shepherd; a building falls down if too many bricks are removed; limbs die if removed from the body; a family is destroyed if its members do not live in love together.
Three, the demonic counterfeit of a covenant with God is an inner vow with self. Rather than entering into a covenant relationship with God’s family the church, Satan wants you to make an inner vow with yourself that you will never again trust or participate in God’s family ever again. He will even bring along other hurt people with the same bitterness and inner vow to justify and reinforce your decisions which cause your destructions.
We love God. We love you. And we love the church. Every Christian has varying degrees and kinds of church hurt. The New Testament letters written to churches include incredible religious legalism where people are attacking each other like wild dogs in Galatia, and rebellious licentiousness where people are getting drunk at communion and sleeping with even family members in Corinth. The New Testament was written to local churches that were hospitals filled with sick people needing a lot of help and nothing has changed in our day.
Despite all the pains and problems in the churches, the New Testament tells us how to make it better. Over and over, the phrase “one another” is used in some form or fashion. These commands in the Bible cannot be obeyed unless you are part of a local church family as they were written to churches to be read in churches and obeyed by people in those churches:
12:5 Belong to one another
12:10 Be devoted to one another
12:10 Honor one another
12:16 Live in harmony with one another
12:18 Live at peace with one another
15:7 Accept one another
1:10 Agree with one another
4:6 Don’t take pride over against one another
10:24 Look out for one another
12:25 Have equal concern for one another
16:20 Greet one another with a holy kiss
5:13 Serve one another
5:15 Don’t devour one another
5:26 Don’t envy one another
5:26 Don’t provoke one another
6:1 Carry one another’s burdens
4:2 Bear with one another
4:25 Speak truthfully with one another
4:32 Be kind to one another
4:32 Be compassionate to one another
4:32 Forgive one another
5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
5:21 Submit to one another
2:4 Look to the interests of one another
3:9 Don’t lie to one another
3:13 Bear with one another
3:13 Forgive one another
3:16 Teach one another
3:16 Admonish one another
4:9 Love one another
4:18 Encourage one another
5:11 Encourage one another
5:11 Build up one another
5:13 Live in peace with one another
5:15 Be kind to one another
10:24 Spur on one another
10:25 Meet with one another
10:25 Encourage one another
13:1 Love one another
5:9 Don’t grumble against one another
5:16 Confess your sins to one another
5:16 Pray for one another
1:22 Love one another
3:8 Live in harmony with one another
4:9 Offer hospitality to one another
5:14 Greet one another with a kiss of love
1:7 Have fellowship with one another
3:11 Love one another
3:16 Lay down your lives for one another
3:23 Love one another
4:7 Love one another
5 Love one another
The church needs you, and you need the church. We would encourage you to forgive whatever church hurt you have, find a group of godly people you can trust to do life with you, and commit yourself to that local church like a family with all of its faults and flaws but love and serve because that’s what family is all about. There’s no such thing as a perfect family or church family, but both become better if we become part of the solution rather than just pointing out the problems.
Lastly, Christians in the church are told, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [FOOTNOTE: Heb. 10:24–25] Being together is how we stir one another up to be more loving and helpful. Think of it like a fire. When the logs are stacked together, they radiate heat and life to one another to burn brighter and longer. When those same logs are separated and scattered, they quickly stop burning, grow dim, and eventually smolder out altogether. Christians are like those logs.