According to the old stories, when the apostle John was nearing the end of his life the only thing he would do was repeat the words, “Dear children – love each other” to anyone who came by.
I used to wonder why he did that. With his final words he could have been solving theological disputes or dictating another book, but he was simply encouraging his flock to follow a simple rule -a rule so simple that we teach it to children. I didn’t understand why he chose those words to be his last.
That was before I worked with any churches.
I’ve seen the dark side of the church. I’ve seen churches divide themselves along some sort of internal political lines (maybe the members couldn’t agree on how the service should be run) and keep themselves separate from anyone who disagreed with them. I’ve seen people refuse friendship to the poor and less fortunate in their own church order to turn the building into a social club where they got to hang out with the cool kids; and I’ve seen people refuse to shake hands with minorities after the service. Other times I’ve seen church members who will hold a grudge for decades – even long after anyone can even remember how it started. It is difficult to find love in this world, and it should at least exist within the walls of the church.
(It’s interesting that the medieval inquisition didn’t persecute pagans, atheists or Muslims – despite what you may have heard. It was Christians torturing each other over very minor disputes.)
It’s heartbreaking. The actual work of the church – helping the orphaned and homeless, sharing God’s hope with others, etc. – is always put on hold while certain members treat the church building like their own personal courthouse. I remember being disgusted as a young man when I attended a meeting of a local association of churches and I watched them vote to remove two churches from their fellowship because of a minor theological concern. This made many of the local churches angry, and the remaining churches were roughly divided over the issue in the aftermath. It was embarrassing to know that I was part of such a foolish bureaucracy, and I saw no way I could bring healing to the community after that rift had formed.
Whenever I’ve left a church for any reason I’ve always had the same thought in my mind – I just wish they would learn to love each other – and, just like that, one day I understood why the apostle John made those his last words.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)