GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 604 • January 15, 2021
UNCOMFORTABLE PROBLEMS THE CHURCH NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT (1)
In the next several issues of my personal essays I intend to touch upon a few untouchables and mention a few unmentionables, maybe even one or two “please don’t talk about that” issues — difficult and uncomfortable matters that will not be solved and will not go away by being ignored. There are in fact many uncomfortable problems the church generally ignores, matters that cause great pain and perhaps some embarrassment and uneasiness but seldom get mentioned, either from the pulpit or in classrooms, or in printed materials produced by the church — perhaps not even in private conversation, matters we just don’t really want to talk about. There may be some people too who are “untouchables” – not to Jesus but to His hypercritical people.
Many excuses and a few legitimate reasons are offered to justify the silence. Nervousness and personal embarrassment or shyness prevent those who have certain problems from admitting it or asking for help. The would-be or should-be counselor may be ignorant and may say, “I just don’t know enough about that to give any advice.” But information for every problem is available and the well-being of the person with the problem is important enough that one should make the effort to find answers and, then, to help share and discuss the information and resolve the problem – or at least reassure the troubled person. An inadequate excuse often offered is, “I just would never feel comfortable discussing such a thing.” Even worse is the feeling that one’s attitude toward the person might be damaged, “I could never respect or accept anybody who had that problem – so I’d rather not be asked to help, rather not know the problem existed.” That may sound well and good, but how many people are problem-free, question-free, error-free? How many are perfect just as they are? Are you one of them – no weakness, no doubt, no fear, no uncertainty, never tempted, never failed a test. never sinned in anything, nothing you wish you had not done, nothing you would like to correct or improve – you are perfect just as you are? If you think you are, you have probably been sheltered and shielded, never tested, or have not been honest in your judgment of yourself. But if you actually are strong, knowledgeable, secure in your growing faith, and capable of sharing and bearing with the weak and unknowing, those who are insecure and unable to find their own way to rightness and peace, then come forward and show yourself willing to do so. Don’t just think it or say it – do it (Romans 14:1, 15:1-2 and Galatians 6:1-2). It has been said that the Church is not a museum of saints nor a showplace for the spiritually healthy but rather a clinic or hospital for the spiritually sick, for sinners. If that be so, stop pretending to be curator of the museum or scheduler for the show-off saints on display and, if you can’t give necessary first-aid, you can at least call for a doctor, nurse, or an ambulance. You can redirect those seeking help to someone able to give it. Of course all churches are different, just as all individuals are, with different abilities, interests, levels of faith, and opportunities to serve. But since we have only one Bible, containing God’s standards, requirements, and answers to human problems, help should be readily available in the church everywhere.
There are many issues the Church as a whole needs to address and can address in the pulpits and classrooms, such as creationism, activism, environmental stewardship, participation in politics and military or police service, levels of punishment including capital punishment, and many other such things. But there are many more issues that individuals in the church are contending with, whether by choice or necessity —issues that the church should be talking about. We are, after all, as mentioned above in Galatians 6:2, to “bear each other’s burdens” and also, by inference, to ask others to share our burdens with us. If we allow love and grace to motivate us we can certainly alleviate some of the darkness and pain; we can bring light, comfort, health, and hope to those struggling without them. If we turn up the light and love in our own hearts first we can turn our churches into hospitals and safe havens where we can actually admit or be admitted, help and be helped with the uncomfortable problems we have to deal with.
I have several topics I propose to present, and I expect that others will come to mind. Perhaps some, when they know we are willing to discuss such things, will ask questions that will be suitable – at least not unsuitable – for these essays or private conversations and for group studies or pulpit presentations. The essays should not take the place of help from someone equipped to go deeply into the problems and offer professional counseling. I need to assure you that I am not professional, not certified or licensed to counsel and do not want to be liable for faulty advice. More than one gospel preacher has been sued by persons who took his advice as prescriptions for action and when the results were not what they wanted their recourse was to take the counselor to court and sue for damages. My remarks and essays under the heading Uncomfortable Subjects the Church Needs to Talk About are intended only to be suggestive as to how Christians and the church can help meet some obvious needs of troubled people.
Of course there will be times when no answer or no help is readily available. No person or group of persons knows or can know – or can be expected to know – everything. But it is like any and all questions, such as the meaning of certain biblical words or doctrines or events. The honest person may have to say, “I do not know the answer, but I will help you find the answer if one is available.” Admitting one’s own inadequacy or lack of knowledge – one’s frank honesty – is more admirable than the “know it all” attitude we sometimes encounter. I am personally acquainted with persons who insist upon giving opinions based on feeling or hearsay rather than facts – one particularly obnoxious attitude is “if I say it, it will become truth,” and a lot of bad advice is given, much of which will make the situation worse and not better. Sometimes just listening to troubled persons and showing that you genuinely care for them and their situation can be a huge part of their healing process. Showing love and concern and willingness to help troubled persons will do a lot to curb the plague of departures from the church and from faith in God and Christ that currently troubles us. Persons who are convinced the church or the Christian does not really care, has neither the ability nor the desire and willingness to listen, understand, and offer help for their real or perceived problems will probably just go away – perhaps disappointed and silent, but often vocally critical and accusing. But persons who are assured that answers and help are available and will be searched, researched, found and applied will be more likely to stay and participate in the process.
The cooperation of the troubled person with those trying to help must be emphasized. There may be an answer, an offer of help but if it is refused the problem will go unresolved, recovery and rehabilitation will not be realized. We are to bear one another’s burdens and, by inference, allow others to bear our burdens with us. But there are matters that cannot be done for us by others or done by us for others. Each must do his part. Doing one’s own part is so critical that we may say, “If you don’t do your part, your part will not be done. Nobody else can do it for you.” But you’ve noticed, haven’t you, how often the troubled person, the person with a problem, wants to play the “drop it and run” game? If I can give you my problem then I will be free and it becomes your problem and no longer mine. We may even try that approach with God. “Take your problem to the Lord and leave it there.” Doesn’t the Bible say that ? The usual reference given is 1 Peter 5:7 “…casting all your care upon Him; for He cares for you.” But this is not a dump it and run from it and leave it with God recommendation. God does not do your part for you. He will be a helper for you (Psalm 33:20, 46:1), work together with you (2 Corinthians 6:1-2, Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 13:5-6), answer your requests and prayers (1 Peter 3:10-13). He will do for you what you need but cannot do for yourself or others cannot do for you – this is part of His grace, the epitome of which is the Savior Jesus Christ who did for us what neither we ourselves nor any other person could do (Ephesians 2:5-9, Romans 5:6-11). Notice here: when we were without strength, helpless to save ourselves from our spiritual condition and still in our sins God sent Christ to save us.
I remind you that in this and several occasional and irregular but numbered essays to follow it we will focus on Uncomfortable and Critical Problems the Church Needs to Talk About.