Forklift Theology

Faith musings from the seat of a forklift.

The Guilt Driven Church

Nobody likes feeling guilty. Nobody likes being confronted regarding something. Especially true when being asked about damaged freight. Guilt is a natural reaction to wrong doing, usually. However, sometimes people reach a point in which they no longer feel guilt about their actions, and even damage to a customer’s product is nothing to them. Now, to reject any notion of guilt over damage caused is a bad thing, but the opposite extreme, perpetual guilt, is just as bad. Perpetual guilt is a problem in the modern church.

Recently I visited a church in central Tacoma. To say it was an embarrasment would be an understatement. Out of the five songs that they played, two had no reference at all to the Lord God or Christ Jesus. The others were so out of context they couldn’t even really be classified as appropriate for church. Additionally, they had a guilt filled speech regarding the idea of how we have to give before we can get. While there is a limited amount of truth to that idea, it completely misses the point of the gospel, and bear in mind that the point of the speech was to guilt people into giving.

Then the pastor(?) came out and began to discuss how to raise children. He started by throwing out a couple of verses from the book of Proverbs, and then started giving out what boils down to “good advice”. Was any of it scriptural? No. Was it legalistic and able to lead to a guilty conscience? Absolutely. Sadly, that is how many modern churches operator.

Was this an aberration? I wish. This is the primary modus-operandi of most modern, primarily non-Lutheran, churches. That is to say, I see this quite often in all non-liturgical churches I visit. I suppose we might wonder why a church would want to drive people to guilt, but the answer isn’t all that complicated. To some extent, it is greed. Churches want to grow, and growth requires money and people. The best (worst?) way to acquire membership numbers and increased finance is to foster a sense of guiltiness in people. Indeed, the pastor(?) of this most recent church talked about how his life was better than ours because he could do something he was better at than everyone else who was there. Truthfully, how does he know? He doesn’t. All his statement does is serve to guilt people into seeing themselves as being beneath him, and thusly keep them from seeking to do what he does. This, too, is common in many such churches.

Honestly, the question that should be asked is “What went wrong?”. I would argue that there is plenty to say went wrong. However, here is my list of things that are wrong. Some more so than others.

1. Music. I would be very hard pressed to find anything scripturally redeeming in the music. Most of it was feel good stuff that could easily be found on the adult contemporary station, and possibly without any changes to the lyrics. That alone should be condemning for a Christian church, as such music does not convey the Gospel. Additionally, audio volume is a poor substitute for a lack of scriptural authority. Even as I write this, I still have a headache.

Is there a Bible verse that pertains to this? I am hesitant to suggest one, but there is one that comes close. When Christ Jesus was confronted by the scribes and Pharisees about the disciples not washing their hands, they spoke highly of human traditions, not the word of God. Simple truth, contemporary worship is a human tradition, and much of it does not honor God. Such being the case, I would argue that Matthew 15:8~9 may bear some weight with what I saw. Again, given the context of the verses, I am hesitant, yet given how the music spoke nothing of the Gospel, there might be a case for argument of application.

2. Sin. Huh? Let me make something clear. I attend three church services this week. One was a memorial service in a Roman Catholic church. One was a Lutheran church service. The last one being this church in central Tacoma. Of the three, only the Lutheran and Roman Catholic spoke of sin, and God’s forgiveness. I did not hear a single reference to sin or forgiveness at this last church. If we fail to acknowledge our sinfulness, how can we think to praise God? To this end, I’m clueless. In Romans, the Apostle Paul, in discussing God’s righteousness makes the statement “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” in the third chapter at the twenty-third verse. Any church that ignores our sinfulness is not worthy of being called a church, it doesn’t matter if it is the evening service or not, we can not afford to ignore that which we acknowledge as true.

3. Context. In the Lutheran church, we argue that context is king when understanding scripture. We say that scripture interprets scripture. Now I am aware that there are several places in the Bible where there are verses that appear to say the same thing as something elsewhere in the Bible, but that isn’t actually true. Just because a verse appears to say one thing by itself is meaningless unless we look at the verse in its context. We can take any verse out of context and use it to justify anything we want, but unless we look at that verse within its proper context, we don’t really know what it is saying. Additionally, we can not pick and choose what verses we like. This means we can’t simply go from verses 25:1~3, skip 4, and goto 5. That verse that is skipped might be saying something important. This is also why I am hesitant to suggest a verse with regards to point 1.

4. Emotion. Getting back to the music, it was based upon feeling God within us. This is known as emotionalism and can lead one to idolatry. When we try to “feel God”, or “usher in his presence”, we are not really letting God be God. No. Rather, we are attempting to tell God what to do. It just doesn’t work that way. Our feelings are fleeting at best. What happens when we can’t get that same feeling next time? Despair and guilt and what happens.

These were my top four. There were other issues as well. Having a machine for taking offerings in the narthex (I think they call it a lobby). There was also an active coffee shop/cafe in the narthex, which only reminded me of the money changers in the temple, whom Christ Jesus drove out with a whip. This is not to mention that there was no pulpit, just a stage and two videos cameras to record it. Note that I am not opposed to recording a sermon for the sake of sharing, but I would be hard pressed to call what I heard a sermon, it seemed more like a seminar with a rock concert. Yes, I know I am being harsh, but I am also being honest with regards to what I saw, or didn’t see.

I used to attend churches like this quite regularly. Sometimes they’d mention sin, but most of the time it was just feel good music, sometimes about God, and some sort of semi-motivational speech. However, feelings are fleeting and motivational speeches can fail to motivate. Eventually you are stuck in rut and may even question the point in going to church. It is no wonderment that memes exist that discuss the idea of sitting in church and thinking about something else versus doing that something else and thinking about God, never mind that this really only lends towards another form of idolatry.

What can be done?

Not much can be done. There will always be churches and groups that attempt to guilt you into doing something, being something, or feeling something. At the end of the day, all you may feel is depressed and disappointed. This is NOT the Gospel, and never was. It is true that the law convicts us, but the Gospel saves us. A church that keeps telling you to do, and do more, is only leading to guilt and shame. A church that does not speak of forgiveness of sins in every worship service and sermon is not preaching the Gospel. A church is a place where sinners find forgiveness of sins and savior who promises them everlasting life, by his sacrifice upon the cross, and his resurrection from the grave, for their salvation. That this is done by God without anything from us is all by grace. Any church that says we must do something to be saved, or we must feel God, or we usher him into our presence, I would urge you to run from, and as quickly as possible.

We are all guilty of sin. However, we need not live under the weight of this guilt. As it is written plainly in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” With forgiveness, we are also absolved of our guilt. However, a church that speaks not the words of forgiveness, retains forgiveness of sins, and only burdens its people with guilt for unforgiven sins. Such churches should repent.

Guilt is a feeling we all deal with. Yes, when we are guilty of something, we should take responsibility for it. However, guilt is NOT something that should be used in a church for any reason. It should never be used to get people to give. It should never be used to get people to join. It should never be used to get people to “make a decision” (they can’t anyway). When we sin, we should be admonished for it, and we should repent and be granted absolution. However, no church should use a guilt as a means to control its members. A church that does not pronounce absolution for sins is a church that does not forgive sins, and will only lead to guilt-ridden members who seek an feeling that they can not ever again achieve, and leading only to idolatry of either self, or feelings.

We are all guilty of sin. However, we need not live under the weight of this guilt. As it is written plainly in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” With forgiveness, we are also absolved of our guilt. However, a church that speaks not the words of forgiveness, retains forgiveness of sins, and only burdens its people with guilt for unforgiven sins. Such churches should repent.

When we do something at work that is clearly our fault, we need to take responsibility. Guilt for that only lasts a moment. However, guilt for sins unforgiven can last a lifetime. No church has a right to forever retain the sins of those who are penitent, they must hear that their sins are forgiven. Mistakes happen in life, both professional and personal. Some mistakes can cost us our jobs. However, being responsible and penitent, we can be forgiven our sins, and thus we can be spared an eternity in Hell. This is the Gospel, and it is good news for everyone.

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