What Should Church Be Like?

In Tim Keller’s, Making Sense of God, on p. 193, he writes,

In one of the first years I was working as a minister in Manhattan, I was on a panel discussion at a local university. There I had a conversation with a prominent faculty member who told me that he was a secular man but that he held strongly to humanistic values. “That’s why I avoid churches,” he added. I told him I didn’t follow. “There are only two kinds of churches,” he said, “the legalistic and the relativistic. Both are bad news. I want open-mindedness but real, solid values. Can’t get that combination in church.” He told me some harrowing tales of his experience in some very narrow, abusive, doctrinaire churches, but then of his disgust with the “You can believe anything you like” denominations as well. “These churches are filled with people like me fleeing the legalists, but what they have created is nothing much more than a social club.”

…We must start by fully admitting and addressing the problem. There are indeed many of both kinds of congregations. For every one person I’ve met who turned away from faith because of reasoning and an apparent lack of evidence, there are many more who have left because of church people who are proud, self-righteous, and imperious. There is no excuse at all for this, and therefore Christians should be very quick to listen to these objections.

Secular people may have trouble getting a firm hold on the slippery concepts of morality and truth. But though religious people may have a strong grip on these things, they also often use them as bludgeons to intimidate and control those who share them and to condemn and punish those who do not. To think, “We are on the side of truth,” can give people internal warrant to be abusive to those they believe have heretical opinions. Put another way, while secular people struggle with the problems that come with relativism, religious people wrestle with moralism.

Church must be a third option, the correct option, always “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV).

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