Are We Playing Devil's Advocate?
"....it's so disgusting. The place is so packed. Worse than normal rush hour traffic. How annoying. And those people look like they're trying to compete with each other. The way they dress I mean. That's not the way to dress for church." she complains, shaking her head in disapproval.
Two of Singapore's largest churches have relocated their main services to the Singapore Expo Halls due to lack of space in their own premises. As a result, human traffic has increased 10 fold every Sunday at the, otherwise quiet, Expo vicinity.
I was somewhat disappointed with her observation and remark. Although I am not from these churches, they are nevertheless part of my spiritual family and so I naturally feel the sting when someone passes judgement on them. It's sort of like a protective reflex members of a family possess. I know among this huge crowd and dressy individuals, are people of integrity, love and grace, whose main desire and purpose for being there is to praise and worship God. They might not fit our idea of what a religious person should look like but that does not make them any less spiritual or devoted. Being religious does not equate devotion. You can dress the part without a care for God and the things of God. What is more vital is the fruit that a person bears. And that is something we can't know till we know their heart. Certainly not by judging from their outward appearances. I do not deny there are some within that group, or any congregation for that matter, that dishonors the name of the God they serve. It is unfortunate and unfair that the entire church had to bear the shame. It could be out of ignorance that we judge people this way. As a nonbeliever, my friend might not have understood the ways of God - that God does not accept us based on externals, that the only reason these people could be part of His family is by His grace, and that His family are made up of all sorts of people at different stages of spiritual development. To an outsider, they can be an unruly and spoilt brood. But God loves them nonetheless and continues to receive them just as they are. In time, His love will transform them. So I can understand where my friend is coming from and thus be able to excuse her.
But what happens when a member of our family betrays us? I had been foolish to share my friend's observation with a fellow believer of a different church, thinking she'd understand how I feel being from the same spiritual family. But this was her response. I've paraphrased them for the sake of those not familiar with the Singapore lingo.
"...but of course, it's a well known fact that your church people are all very hiao (a crude word for vain in dialect)," she said, self-satisfied.
I was shocked and hurt. I didn't expect her to be so careless with her words and so severe in her judgement. I reminded her that I am not from these churches but I am nevertheless bothered when people talk bad about them. Her next response was just as swift.
".....oh please, New Creation (my church) people are just as hiao."
At that point I know I should have kept my mouth shut. In the same breath that she judges my immediate spiritual family, she told me not to take my friends comments to heart for it was out of ignorance and not intention. Does that make hers intentional then, since she can't claim ignorance? I felt betrayed. Misunderstood. Hurt. If criticism is needed, then let it be constructive and motivated by love. Not in blatant, self-righteous fashion that does nothing but deepen the division of the church. What God plans to do in another person's life, and how that other person lives out God's plan, is the business only of God and the other person. We are to encourage and help others as they fulfill God's purpose in their lives, but we are not the creator, originator, manipulator, or policeman of that plan and purpose. God is fully capable of dealing with each person individually. If we do not stop the "my church is my church, yours is yours" mentality and start seeing all of us as one body of Christ, we'd not only grieve the Lord, who is the head of the universal church, but also play right into the Devil's schemes - that is to cause division within the body of Christ. As a family, we should standby one another. The church is to be a place of acceptance - not acceptance of sin, but certainly acceptance of sinners. It is be a place where a person can be appreciated for being a child of God and a special creation of God.
It is common for fallen human nature to stereotype and judge. All of us are guilty of it. But it has to stop, especially for those who have known and receive the grace of God. The greatest tragedy in all this is not only that we become blind to our own faults as we're too busy throwing stones - but also that God is made invincible, to believers as well as the world.
And the Devil and his minions will be celebrating in Hell.