June 13, 2007

Growing in Christ

2007 1516 page30 capo, what did you want to study in the Bible?”
“Did you see those kids last night, the way they were dressed? That’s not scriptural.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Those choir singers, the way they were dressed, unscriptural. And the volume was way too loud.”
I was at a series of evangelistic meetings when a friend said there was a woman interested in Bible studies. She had interrupted his study a couple times, and he asked if I could help. Primed for evangelism, I quickly agreed. After grabbing my friend Greg for some added help, we found the woman.
We took down her contact information and asked the fateful question that produced the irritable answer. We were all ready to study the Sabbath, or the sanctuary, but it seemed all she wanted to do was complain about people.
“There are women wearing pants—that’s not scriptural; they aren’t supposed to be wearing men’s clothing.”
About this time Greg excused himself so he could get an early start at running PowerPoint. As we continued, she accosted a local pastor as he walked past our little “Bible study” in the lobby. “The volume is too loud—and they aren’t dressing scripturally!” she said, exasperated.
2007 1516 page30After assessing the situation, the pastor managed to come up with a ministerial-based excuse that resulted in him saying, “I have to go . . .” and he dashed off, again leaving me alone with the woman.
“It seems like everyone has to go,” she griped. Truth be told, I needed to go too—for my own sanity’s sake. But I wasn’t sharp enough to find an excuse, and service didn’t start for another 25 minutes. I desperately tried again to ask what she wanted to study, what she was dealing with. I couldn’t believe what she said next.
“The church needs a dress code.”
“You think the church should legislate how people dress?”
“Yes, just at church.”
“So, if people didn’t dress accordingly, they couldn’t come to church?”
“Just the sanctuary; they could go in the basement.”
In the course of my “study” with this woman she had mentioned a Bible worker who was helping her. I found the Bible worker after the service and inquired about the woman. The answer I received changed my perspective.
“She’s a new convert who had some high expectations about what the church should be,” said the Bible worker. “She’s struggling as she sees that not everyone is perfect.”
One of our Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Growing in Christ, states: “In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character . . .” The Bible tells us we are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, ESV).* Growth in Christ is not complete right out of the baptismal tank. As Ellen White noted, it is “not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 560).
It is unfortunate that so many times new members, even old ones, get the impression that everybody in church must be perfect at all times to be part of the church; when, in fact, a growing church contains people at all levels of growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Church members may give the wrong impression about Christian growth by not being transparent about their brokenness and struggles, along with their victories and triumphs. We also may fail to form relationships new members need. We are excited to see people baptized, but sometimes neglect taking the initiative to form friendships they need to navigate the waters of their new church family and avoid extremes.
So what can we do?
First, rejoice when you go to church and see people of varying levels of understanding. A church that reaches out to the lost will have people in the congregation who don’t have it all together. Second, look around and intentionally form relationships with new members. As a result of your friendship and modeling the Christian life, the process of growth will be an effective one that avoids getting stuck in mud holes of misunderstanding.
*Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Seth Pierce studies at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He and his wife, Angela, live in Berrien Springs, Michigan.