Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Common Sense and the Church

There was a time when I would not have viewed the two as being complete opposites of each other, than time has long passed. Today, I am forced into the realization that the majority of Black folks in the church today exercise little to no common sense. One would think that as time as has passed and religion has grown, so too would our thoughts in regards to the church. I am appalled at the state of affairs in Religion, specifically the Southern Black churches. I will pick on the Black Baptists in the most southern states (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi) since I am most familiar with them, and they are they actual group that has driven me to writing this blog.
It is hard to talk about something without first painting a clear picture or delivering a thorough explanation of what it is. What is a Baptist? Baptist is a term describing individuals belonging to a Baptist church or a Baptist denomination. The name comes from the conviction that followers of Jesus Christ are commanded to be immersed in water as a public display of their faith, and thus most people that adhere to the Baptist faith reject infant baptism. While the term "Baptist" has its origins with the Anabaptists, the denomination itself is more closely linked to the English Separatist movement of the 16th century.

Now that we know what a Baptist is, I can move further into pointing out the ever-widening gap between common sense and the Church. One of the first things that drew my attention to the lack of common sense being used in the church today was governance, plainly speaking, who governs the working of the Baptist church. Although I’m not at bible study every Wednesday, choir rehearsal every Thursday, or Worship every Sunday, I’m in service enough to know that something has gone awry with how the church is being governed. I do not expect every person in the congregation to know the full Baptist covenant, but I do expect a person to at least exercise enough common sense to understand the system of leadership within the denomination to which you have chosen to belong. In some Black Baptist churches, the covenant hangs on the wall for all to see, as I think it should. When in doubt about something, simply walk over and read. Perhaps the number of churches displaying the covenant is dwindling because “someone” wants to keep common sense out of range.

Back to governance, autonomy in the Baptist church is closely related to the polity of congregational governance. The key word in the preceding sentence is congregational, that means YOU, the members. It’s kind of like saying “We the People”, the congregation is the governing body, not the Pastor, as so many people tend to foolishly believe today.
The congregation has the ability and authority to appoint/approve its pastor. This is yet another area where common sense is lost. Choosing a pastor is not a task that the congregation has to do blindly. The bible provides extremely clear qualifications that the pastor MUST meet; it does not read as though you can pick and choose what you want. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 gives specific details on what the congregation should be looking for when seeking a minister. “1Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer,[a] he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.” Seems pretty clear to me what the congregation should be looking for. Looking at our churches today, It’s a safe assumption that these verses were not used in the decision making process when the pastor was chosen. I know people have the power to repent and be saved, make tremendous changes in their lives, etc. I am in no way disputing that. What gets me though is when congregations, especially those of Black churches in rural southern areas, decide they want to go out and get the latest new fangled minister from a place they never heard of, and a church that can’t wait to get rid of him. Newsflash folks, if he’s running from a church, there’s likely a good reason. If there are warrants for his arrest, this is NOT a saved man, it’s a fugitive. I’ve he’s on wife number two with three kids under five by various women, this isn’t a changed man, it’s a man who has a problem with women that will more than likely carry over into the congregation. Stop acting so surprised after you’ve chosen one of these characters, without consulting God’s word, and he drains the church’s finances, causes divides among members, and drives away the elders, it was bound to happen, no common sense was used.

Let’s talk briefly about the Four Freedoms, which to me seem rooted in common sense. The Baptist faith believes in four freedoms, they are as follows:
1. Soul freedom: the soul is competent before God, and capable of making decisions in matters of faith without coercion or compulsion by any larger religious or civil body
2. Church freedom: freedom of the local church from outside interference, whether government or civilian (subject only to the law where it does not interfere with the religious teachings and practices of the church)
3. Bible freedom: the individual is free to interpret the Bible for himself or herself, using the best tools of scholarship and biblical study available to the individual
4. Religious freedom: the individual is free to choose whether to practice their religion, another religion, or no religion
Each of these very fundamental freedoms within the church are merely exercises in common sense, what has gone so wrong that people don’t follow them.

I continue to hear horror story after horror story of churches with what I will call “runaway preachers”. In one sense I use the term runaway to mean they have abandoned the covenant that governs the church and adopted their own mission, they are like a runaway train. In another sense, I simply mean preachers you wish you could runaway from the church, never to be seen or heard from, the two are usually one in the same.
How do they stay around so long you ask? Lack of common sense being exercised. These preachers generally ease their way in, lay low being the good shepherd for a few months, as they scope out those parishioners least likely to have or use any common sense, thus is born his new circle of friends. Perhaps it wouldn’t bother me so except, the circle of friends tends to get out of hand when runaway preacher decides, “I’ll make these guys my deacons so they can have more of a say in matters and thus able to back me up on things”. If just a fraction of the people would use their common sense, coupled with their bible, this could be stopped.

The Baptist church recognizes only two offices, that of the Preacher and that of the deacons, each are chosen/governed by the congregation. The bible again provides the qualifications for a deacon, just as it does for the preacher. 1Timothy 3:8-13 gives a detailed description of what a deacon, as well as his wife, should be. It reads as follows: 8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11In the same way, their wives[b] are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

By now you can see that the Baptist church is by no means an intricate web to decipher, it operates on pure common sense fundamentals, so why then aren’t the members operating with common sense? Many would say that the church and how it operates has progressed with the times and the “old way” of doing things is no longer applicable, I say this is rubbish. The bible is still the same bible it was centuries ago. Translations may have occurred but the basic meaning remains the same, this should be true for the church as well. I can find no instances of people being asked to bring in their paycheck stubs (more like penny sacks) for the church to review back in the early 1900s. Offerings and tithing was present then but didn’t involve the scrutinizing of ones income. No one from the church stopped by your farm to see how much corn you produced so they could calculate what you “rightly owed” the church. First of all a member owes the church nothing, your tithes and offering as between you and God. I don’t know about you, but God has never requested my W-2. If folks would simply uses a small measure of common sense, they would see something wrong with being asked to bring in financial statements to their place of worship.

More and more, churches are becoming financial advisors, basically telling members what portion of money THEY earned should be given to the church, and I say church because I do not see this as giving to God. Giving to God comes from the heart and not from a finance committee dictating to you.

Let’s talk about begging, since when did God commission preachers to beg? If I hear one more so called sermon where the preacher is screaming at me to give, and dig deep when giving, I’m going to scream. The pulpit has started to resemble an auction floor, “who will give $100, get a ticket to heaven right now, just give $100. We have $100 from Brother Jones. Can I get $200 for the express ticket to heaven, bypass all the regular stops, and get extra close to St. Pete, who can give $200?” People this is ridiculous, have you not the common sense to see that this preacher is no where close to discussing the teachings of the bible, he’s begging for money! What’s more disturbing than the preacher begging for money, is the individuals that rush up to give it. What sense does it make to have your electricity turned off and your family in the dark, but you put that $100 in the collection plate? Oh, the preacher said God will bless and take care of you, well, yes, he will, but one of his first blessings is giving you common sense to be able to take care of your family, it’s not his fault if you choose not to use it, there is that thing called free will you know.

I’m not just going to hold the members accountable; I must also speak to you preachers. Perhaps at one time you had every intention of doing God’s will and being a good leader, somewhere along the way you have traded that in for fame and fortune. Yes, fame and fortune. Today it seems it’s more important that you have your picture on large billboards and wear fancy suits than it is to minister to your flock. How can you in good faith except lavish gifts from your congregation when you know one fourth of them are out of work, one forth of them are on welfare are receiving some type of public assistance, one forth of them are facing foreclosure or eviction, and the last forth that can possibly afford to give to you may not WANT to. Is it not enough that you are getting paid a salary? Why should you get all these additional perks, you are simply doing what God called you to do and you agreed to do, you are not going above and beyond. In my eyes you are wrong to accept them knowing the condition of your congregation, honestly, how do you sleep at night?

In closing, I’d like to say I miss the old-time church, no I’m not an elderly person but I am old enough to remember when the pastor’s anniversary involved folks cooking food from their garden, bringing it to church and communing as a church family to celebrate another year instead of buying $500 suits and throwing lavish get-togethers. I remember revivals when the visiting preacher stayed and ate at the homes of people in the congregation instead of charging the church for $200 a night hotel rooms. I remember fish frys and car washes instead of investment campaigns. I remember hearing preachers preach from the bible instead of simply talking about day-to-day things they don’t like. I remember common sense being in the church.


dignified black woman said...

The church as we knew it is no longer, it has become a forum for political issues, a financial institution, and sometimes a nightclub.

barbara in NJ said...

I think the Church has progressed over the years, some for the best and some for the worst, depends on the church. I still think we need to support out church's and our ministers and be uplifting to the house of the Lord.
It is nice to see that people are still concerned enough to write about the church.

silver streaks said...

I see i'm not alone in feeling sad and let down with the way the church is today. I was once a regular church goer but now rarely attend. I miss the way it used to be as well. But i guess i am not helping things get better by not going to church. to make a change i need to be there.

Anonymous said...

One of the main problems with the church today is people like you having such negative commentary about it.

AfroDaddy said...

I didn't take the blog to be negative at all, it was simply stating the facts. Church people have a hard time seeing problems when it involves themselves but they can point them out in everyone else.

check yo self said...

I don't participate in organized religion, reminds me of organized crime.

Anonymous said...

Can you send this to my church please!

Anonymous said...

We don't see enough of our people being concerned about the state of the church. Thank you for speaking up and speaking out.

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