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January 13, 2003

Who's In?

I was told this true story over a year ago by a friend. It shook me then and continues to haunt me. It now plays a part in shaping the type of church I want to be involved with. (Names have been changed to protect the violated and violators) Its long but I can�t share it any other way!

Margaret was a spiritual person. She had always sensed there was more out there, some power that was behind life, some being that seemed to be reaching out to her, desiring to entwine itself with her life.

Margaret grew up in suburban Melbourne in the 60�s an 70�s. A time where a young woman could �find herself� . A time where one could experiment with who they were and what there place in the cosmos was. She began to reach out to an unseen but felt God.

Over the years her exploration included trips to Asia to spend time with various gurus, reading books about astral travel and in more recent years she and her young daughter became regular visitors to the New Age festivals that seemed to spring up around the outer suburbs of the city. At times Margaret seemed to find the enlightenment and peace she hungered for at other times she felt empty and longed for more. Her search continued.

After decades of searching Margaret met a Christian that introduced her to a local church and its pastor. The pastor met with her a number of times and in time introduced her to Jesus. She and her daughter became Christians and felt wonderfully and warmly accepted by this community of believers.

Margaret felt alive - she was able to name this previously unknown God that she had felt drawing near to her. She began to grow and mature in her faith yet she still had questions. Questions about how her new found faith in Jesus fit with her previous experiences. Had she not experienced enlightenment and peace through her yoga, her crystals and exploration of other religions? Or was it all just simply of Satan or perhaps just some psychological phenomenon?

She wanted to make sense of it all and began to read a New Age book again - looking for Jesus in their pages. She made an appointment to see her Pastor, surely he would be able to advise her. The appointment came and she shared some of her doubts and experiences of before her conversion. She asked him questions and told him about the book she had been reading. He said very little and she went home confused.

Sunday morning came and Margaret and her teenage daughter went to worship as they did every week. They sat towards the front, eager to learn and connect with God. After the singing had finished the Pastor got up to speak. All was normal at first apart from the fact that he did not stand at his pulpit as was his habit. Instead he began to leave the platform and walked into his congregation. He walked up to Margaret and then pointed at her so that no one could be mistaken about whom he spoke of.

"This woman has been dabbling with things of Satan!" he shouted to his flock. "She is not to be trusted. I do not want any of you to have anything to do with her from this day forward. This woman is a WITCH!" He then proceeded to order her from the building while those she had come to know as friends looked on.

Margaret and her daughter have never set foot in church again. Her daughter who this story was related to my friend by had an incredible distrust for the church and Christians as a result also and says she�ll never return either.

This story made me angry. Its an extreme illustration of something that I feel many churches today are guilty of - building walls. The pastor that day put a boundary around his congregation. It was publicly stated and well defined. Everyone knew that morning who was IN and who was OUT. If you had questions, doubts or wanted to try to make sense of the gospel in relation to another belief system you were excluded in a vindictive way from the community.

As I said, this is an extreme case. Many, perhaps even most churches and pastors would take a more gentle and graceful approach with Margaret. However its got me wondering what boundaries we continue to build up around ourselves as churches. I�ve taken a good hard look at how church operates and I think that most are guilty of the same thing in many and varied ways.

Most of the boundaries we build are very subtle and unintentional - but none the less they exist. They can range from simple things like the language we use and the way we dress right through to the big issues like how we determine membership or issues of theology and exercising of gifts. When we do this the mentality is one of US and THEM. Time and energy is spent by the community defining the boundaries and making sure people are kept on the side that they belong. To become one of US (to belong) means you have to change your behaviour or beliefs. (or at least appear to do so)

The way I read Jesus is that he didn�t operate this way. I can�t find an account where he told a sinner or outcast to go away and fix themselves up before they could come to him. In fact the people he go most angry at were people who were into the US and THEM game. Time and energy in Jesus community wasn�t spent on defining boundaries and keeping people in their place, rather it was spent on drawing people into a life in the kingdom.

I don�t have all the answers, community gets tricky at times and so often we find ourselves �playing the game� without even knowing it. But the kind of church I desire to be a member of is one where belonging isn�t determined by what someone believes or what someone�s lifestyle looks like - rather I suspect it needs to be based upon something a little deeper like their attitude and what direction they are moving in. Like Jesus community it might at times look quite opposite the way many of our churches operate - with the outsiders taking up central positions and the so called insiders finding themselves on the outer.

What do you think???

Posted by Darren at January 13, 2003 10:04 PM
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