I’ve had the opportunity recently to discuss the Bible with a friend who has radically different views about what the Bible teaches. One of the points she raised recently was the lack of unity among those who would call themselves “Christians” in the world today. She made the point that there are denominations who accept practices that are strictly forbidden in the Word and others that restrict practices that are not forbidden in the Word. It would seem that “Christians” are all over the board–aren’t we all reading the same Bible?
All of this is confusing to the watching world. I agreed with her. There is much disparity among so-called “believers”, and it is confusing to an unbeliever to see all the different ways the Bible is interpreted and lived out. We all have a story about a person who said they were a Christian and then did such and such to so and so. Or this church we visited where the people weren’t friendly. Or the evangelist you saw on the news who was secretly committing a sin that he had passionately preached against just days before being caught.
I took my daughters to a church in Florida last summer and when the usher took us to our seat he whispered in my ear, “If your children do not behave themselves you will be asked to leave.” While I certainly wouldn’t make that my home church, I had no trouble staying and worshipping my God through that service. I will not hold the actions of people against God!
The good news is this: our hope is not in our pastor, or a televangelist, or a church, or a denomination, our hope is in Christ and He will never change and has never failed!
There was a dad in the Bible who faced disappointment in the leading Christians of his day but he didn’t give up. In the Gospel books of Matthew, Mark and Luke we read this account:
When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.
Matthew 17:14-16 (New International Version)
His request is filled with desperation. This wasn’t an unfounded request, the disciples had been doing such work and were empowered for the task by Jesus himself (see Mark 6:7).
There are two important points to discuss from this passage:
1. This father kept his faith steady. He didn’t give up after the disciples failed him and say “Christians have failed me, therefore, I don’t want religion.” He turned from the failure of the disciples to Jesus himself!
2. Jesus’ response and what it says about human nature. Jesus’ response makes it clear that something is wrong: “O unbelieving and perverse generation, . . . how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” The disciples were imperfect, flawed human beings just like you and I. This rebuke was not just for the disciples but for the entire crowd! All mankind is unbelieving and perverse without a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without him all creation runs haywire, going its own way. When He uses the description “unbelieving and perverse” we should remember God using similar wording to describe the Israelites in the Old Testament (see Numbers 14:27 and Deuteronomy 32:20).
Both the Israelites generation and this group during Jesus’ ministry were described as generations that strayed due to lack of trust. We too, are a generation that strays due to lack of trust. The point is, people have always been unfaithful, unresponsive to the message, the instructions, and lukewarm. Human beings have always been fickle, hypocritical, legalistic, and ambiguous–even those who heard the message directly from Jesus himself. Even those who physically witnessed the miracles for themselves. Even those who heard God’s voice booming from the top of the mountain and saw the inscriptions on the stone tablets and the glow of Moses’ face. This lack of unity, these varied practices of religion, this “say one thing and do another” is not something new. The lack of obedience to God’s Word is not a 2009 problem, it is a sin problem that is as old as the human race. People will always fail and disappoint us. There are no perfect people, only a perfect Savior.
The father in the Gospel accounts kept his faith steady. He didn’t say, “I thought you said you were a disciple?” or “I guess the whole thing is a joke!” He turned from the failure of the disciples to Jesus himself which is exactly what we should do. Jesus cared about his need and He cares about your need too.
If you have been hurt by a person, a church or a denomination don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Don’t you know that the enemy delights in this kind of deception? He is eager to amplify every negative encounter you have with a Christian or a church. Take your case directly to Jesus. He alone has the remedy and you’ll find Him speaking in His Word today just as clearly as He spoke to this father on the road so many years ago.