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New Horizons

What You Might Find at Church

Dick G. Vanderpyl

Some time ago I got hold of a very interesting paperback, with the title War in the Pews. Its subtitle: A Foxhole Guide to Survive Church Conflicts. Its 170 pages are littered with stories of strife in the church, but also present valuable suggestions on how to solve them God's way.

It's fascinating reading. Let me give you a true story of an incident, which almost caused a rift in a congregation. It is about "the battle of a belly button. We all have one, you know that!

A church asked one of its members to paint a mural for the catechism classroom. The artist was to depict the Creation story. Everybody admired the painting—until someone spotted that Adam had a belly button. The critics argued convincingly that Adam could not have had a navel, seeing that he was created by God and not born of man.

Most of them couldn't be bothered. Someone suggested that God could very well have created him with a navel. Why not? Anyway, it was decided to leave it as it is.

But, over a period of time, two opposing camps developed, which almost split the church. And as time went on, the battle for or against the navel heated up. In no time the conflict got out of hand.

The session was now forced to take action and asked the painter to do something about it. "No problem, he said, "I'll soon have that fixed. Seeing that Adam stood behind a small shrub—naturally—he painted an extra leaf, covering Adam's middle.

Sanity came back in that church when both parties after all managed to have a good laugh about it, and humor and peace returned again.

We could easily apply this to our own circles here, couldn't we! I remember many years ago, when some people were absolutely disgruntled with their session. They—the session, that is—were a dumb lot, lacked vision, and argued a lot about nothing. One of the habitual moaners once did his spiel after church. I got out the local church directory to help him point out who these troublers were. I wondered who they were—perhaps I was included. As we went through the list, he affirmed each one of them to be quite okay. I realized then that he was making a safe, noncommittal generalization. After all, the word session is rather vague and nonthreatening, but when it came to pointing out the individuals, he pulled in his horns!

Some people assassinate their pastors and make their family lives miserable! Others have convictions which go against the general rules of church government, liturgy, or church order, and try to lord it over the others. I do love them and so we should, but unless it is contrary to God's Word, we must make every effort to live in peace and harmony.

Generally speaking, we do desire to reach out to the lost in our own communities, don't we? Perhaps it may be better to leave the lost sheep outside our pens for a while, till we have sorted ourselves out here and there! We need to confess our sins and shortcomings to the Lord and to one another and become more charitable and less judgmental toward one another, instead of sticking a label here and there, mostly untrue, onto a presbytery, a local church, or some individuals.

Aren't we supposed to be the salt of the earth?

Settle matters quickly in love and be reconciled to one another in the Lord. If we can't do that, we had better do some soul-searching and seek repentance and restoration.

If we genuinely desire to be a witness in our communities and seek to save the lost, we need to clean up our own house first. On the surface we may appear to be in not such bad shape, but we could do better! The world watches us like a hawk; have no doubt about that. When an elderly man crosses the road and politely asks his churchgoing neighbor to turn the radio down please, and then gets told to mind his own business, this churchgoer has done great harm, not only to himself as a person and as a professing Christian, but also to the church.

Our witness is a round-the-clock activity, by what we say and do, wherever we are. Our every word and every step is being watched by the world! One of my elderly neighbors harbors an incredible grudge against Christians because of what happened to him in the workplace in his teens. He is still angry and as sarcastic as caustic soda! Sad, isn't it?

Revive us again, O Lord. "Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4).

We need, individually and corporately, to examine ourselves if we desire to seek the lost.

What is the message we bring by our lifestyle and speech?

Does the world around us recognize in us a chosen people—not locked up in our own little world, but ready at all times to reach out in word and deed with the good news of salvation?

May peace prevail in our pews!

Mr. Vanderpyl is a longtime elder in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. This article, slightly edited, first appeared under another title in the September 1999 issue of Faith in Focus, the denominational publication of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2000.

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