Let Your Faith Build a Beautiful Church
by Chuck DeVane
“Don’t let the church destroy your faith.”
It seemed like an odd thing for a father to say to his son, especially in the Bible Belt. But my father said this to me on three distinct occasions. The first time was when I joined a church at the age of thirteen, albeit superficially for only a few months. Seven years later I was genuinely converted and Dad warned me about the church again. The last time he made that statement was when he was flabbergasted over my leaving a promising career in business to enter seminary and become a pastor.
At none of those junctures did Dad’s words make good sense to me. I loved the church and the church loved me. Church provided the people and the place where I received faith, practiced faith, and grew in the faith. How could the church destroy my faith?
Looking back after years of following Christ, most of them as a pastor, I now understand my father’s warnings all too well. I can see how the church tried to destroy my faith before I ever found it, how the church tried to shipwreck my faith at every turn, and even to this day how the church hides real faith by putting it under a basket.
By the grace of God, my faith remains. It is older and wiser, buffeted by the frauds and blessed by the faithful, both of whom can be found in the membership of the church. I have not and I will not let the church destroy my faith. Instead, I am going to redouble my efforts to allow true faith to rebuild the church.
In the ensuing chapters you will read about how the church tried to destroy my faith, as her members attacked me with the sins of silence, manipulation, sensationalism, sexual immorality, liberalism, fundamentalism, and every other wrench the devil has thrown into the machinery of the church. I will be critical but not personal. Many names will be changed or withheld to protect the guilty. Each story will spring from a biblical text which exposes the way a church can destroy faith, then show the way in which we can use our faith to build up the church.
Unfortunately, Dad was right. But there is hope for the church, the body of Christ, the family of God, the most important entity on earth. Don’t let the church destroy your faith; rather, let your faith build a beautiful church.
CHAPTER ONE: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
My grandmother was the first person to bring me to church. Mom was the hero of my childhood, the one person on the planet in which I found no flaw, and who seemed to find none in me. I admired the way she combined her strict Christian beliefs with overwhelming kindness, a true iron hand in a velvet glove.
She taught me to love the people of the little white church we attended every Sunday. After services, we would usually pick up some Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way home. I loved church and chicken, which is the reason my grandmother prophesied that I would become a preacher. I remember loving the whole church experience. I can still hear the harmonic singing of the hymns, the serious sermons from the Bible, and the fellowship with friends playing tag in the grassy parking lot. Sundays were great, and Mom made my first impression of the church a very good one.
Then, Mom died. Even though she had never smoked a cigarette in her life, she worked in an office where everyone else smoked. After a brave and brutal battle with lung cancer, my grandmother was taken from us right before my tenth Christmas. To this day I can still feel the chill in the air and the sadness in my heart. I’m older now than she was when she died, and for ever since then I have observed total silence whenever I pass by her cemetery. Her death changed everything.
Mom was the spiritual and moral lynchpin of our family. Without her, my grandfather quickly married again and became a totally different, undisciplined person. My parents’ marriage quickly descended into divorce. After she passed away, I did not darken the door of a church, except for one brief episode, for over a decade.
Her death should have been an occasion to drive all of us to church, the Bible, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. My grandfather was a church member. My father was a church member. My mother was a church member. Many of our neighbors and friends were church members. But no one said a word or lifted a finger to take this church-loving, chicken-loving little boy to the house of God. The silence of the lambs ensued for the next ten years. Like most people between the ages of ten and twenty, these were the most formative years of my life, and I spent them without a word of true faith from a true church.
I later learned how the church had damaged the faith of my family members, so that they had little or none to offer me. Pop, my grandfather, was bitter. No one accepted his new wife and nothing could replace his old one. My parents were confused. My dad became disillusioned with church as a teenager after observing two deacons engage in a fistfight after a business meeting, then he became disillusioned with God for allowing his mother to die such an agonizing death. My mother was reared on pentecostal emotionalism, faith dictated by feelings, and after Mom died she didn’t seem to feel like being a devoted wife, mother, or church member, anymore.
So there I stood, age ten, facing death for the first time. Church should be the people and place where death can be faced with reverence, hope, even joy, because of the promise of eternal life. But no one took me to church or talked to me about sin, death, forgiveness, and the Lord Jesus Christ. The church members in my family simply went silent.
Perhaps this is a good time to say how much I love my grandparents and parents, all of whom have now passed away. I am not mad at them, I do not blame them for any ills in my life, and they are not primarily responsible for my lack of faith as a teenager, I am. Besides, our sovereign God had a plan for my life that overcame their silence and my sin. When I did receive faith as a young adult, my parents played important roles. My father was the smartest man I ever knew. He taught me to be thoughtful, well-read, and have a healthy skepticism about things. My mother’s brief re-entry back into the church during my college years provided a conduit for my salvation, and while I don’t know where her head was sometimes, her heart was always in the right place.
But there is a truth here that hurts. Too many parents today, parents who are members of churches and ambassadors of Christ, preach everything to their children but the gospel. They promote school and sports and fortune and fame to their children, but fail to set an example and say the words that will lead their children to become followers of Christ. They keep their kids from church on Sunday to pursue sleep and recreation. They set poor spiritual, moral, and sexual examples during their children’s most formative years. They make the church a low priority, or no priority at all. The best means of evangelism presented in the Bible is proper child-rearing, and in this arena too many church members are destroying the faith of their children before they ever have a chance to find it.
What would have become of my soul if I had died between the ages of ten and twenty? The church, as represented by my family, was silent. I made no genuine profession of faith in Christ. I was not a legitimate member of any church. I found all my pleasure in worldly pursuits, following the encouragement and example of my parents. Unless the mythical age of accountability is the same as the legal drinking age, I would have been destroyed, and rightly so, by a righteous God. My blood would have been on my own head, but it would have also stained the hands of those who should have loved me enough to share Christ with me, in word and in deed.
Here is a haunting verse in Holy Scripture: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand” (Ezekiel 33:6, ESV). The application for New Testament Christians is obvious, especially in regard to our own family, friends, and community. For too long the church has destroyed the faith of others, or at least kept them from coming to faith, by not heeding these words in the word of God. Now it is time for us to take them seriously, and begin letting our faith rebuild Christ’s church.
If you are a church member but never invite or bring family or friends to church, because you seldom if ever attend public worship yourself, you are probably not a Christian. If you never speak of the gospel and the word of God to others, because you do not savor and meditate upon the gospel and the Bible yourself, you are probably as lost as a ball in high weeds. Jesus said it this way, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33, ESV). Silence is denial, and silence is deadly for lost church members and to those they might otherwise influence with the gospel.
If you are a church member but never invite or bring family or friends to church, because you are unhappy or otherwise ashamed of your church, find another church! My Dad stormed out of church after witnessing two deacons literally fight over a business matter. I would have left, too, but the right thing to do would have been to seek out a better church. Those deacons have blood on their hands, but my father could have, too, for letting me grow up without the gospel of Jesus Christ or taking me to church. It cannot be blamed totally on some bad church, for a good one can be found if you seriously seek one. If you have genuine faith you can find a genuine church to which you will be glad to bring family and friends.
If you are a church member but never invite or bring family or friends to church, because church is your own personal time with God, then repent of this selfishness and start inviting people to join you for Bible study and worship in your church. I’ve known more than a few church members who attended regularly without their spouse, or sent their children to church while they stayed home, all under the guise of wanting some time for themselves. Heavens to hypocrisy, faith is supposed to be a corporate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely a personal one. There are one-hundred-sixty-eight hours in a week. Surely you can steal an hour or two away for yourself without inadvertently throwing up a roadblock to faith.
Finally, if you are a church member but never invite or bring family or friends to church, because you are too timid yourself or otherwise unconcerned about them, consider another scenario. What if your family and friends were living in a certain neighborhood about which you had received a credible report that a terrorist was going to set off a bomb? I am sure you would warn them and do everything else you could to get them to a safe place.
The word of God gives credible evidence, corroborated by science, that these bodies we are living in are ticking time bombs. Furthermore, the Bible reveals that some of us are going to be alive when the world as we know it comes to an end. Most people do not know when they are going to die and no one knows when the world is going to end. But, these things will happen, and those of us who believe have a supreme responsibility to warn others, especially those in our own circle of family and friends.
The safest place to bring them into shelter from the storm should be the church. I know this is not always the case, which is why I’m writing this book. I know the church destroyed my father’s faith, and he had none to pass on to me. I know the church perverted my mother’s faith, which is why she could offer no coherent witness during my childhood. I know the church, true to my father’s warning, has almost destroyed my faith at times. But I have dedicated my life to the perfect Christ, and His imperfect church, and am determined to make the latter more like the former.
If you are one of God’s sheep, do not be silent. It could destroy someone’s faith before they ever have a chance to find it. And now that I’ve written about the importance of church members sharing their faith, in the next chapter I would like to ask some of them to please stop.
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