Like the rest of the nation, my husband and I have been pondering what could have been done to prevent a tragedy like the one in Sandy Hook, or the theater in Aurora, or Columbine, or, or, or… In ministry we get to see God’s hand at work in even the most difficult situations. But we have no illusions about human nature and the realities of our broken world. In our own lives and in the lives of those around us, we see the fruits of woundedness, trauma, and selfishness that affect innocents.
I’ve read the “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” article that has been circulating. My husband and I have looked at the profiles of those who are guilty of these mass shootings. We see those in our own lives in whom many of those risk factors are present: rejection, isolation, socially awkward, angry, battling depression and mental illness.
I will not pretend to be an expert. I oppose those who glibly prescribe prayer in school as the remedy to this complex social breakdown. I believe that we need to take a serious look at gun laws in this country and make it more difficult for the mentally unstable to obtain weapons. But gun laws will never penetrate the heart of the individual where the seeds of violence find fertile soil. And while it is clear that an in-tact family is a large factor in bolstering mental, physical, and emotional health, familial brokenness has been with us since the dawn of time and we must look at action steps in light of that reality.
The church, as broken as it can sometime be, is one of God’s prescriptions for mental health. The very word for church- “ekklesia” or congregation, defies isolation and rejection. True members of the ekklesia will reach out to the “socially awkward.” Fellowship will not depend on whether or not someone is like you, but whether or not you are being like God and embracing the most marginalized within your community.
Very often, it is through others that God speaks encouragement, comfort and direction to us. Without the loving and corrective perspective of a proven friend, an individual can justify any thought process or course of action. What if Adam Lansa had been a part of a community where at least one or two people really knew what was in his mind and heart? What if his feelings of rejection were proven wrong by a pastor who was willing to drop everything if he needed to talk or go with him to a mental health evaluation? What if, despite trepidation and personal risk, a friend had shown up at his house and quietly but firmly asked for him to hand over his guns?
Church, this is your charge: be filled with the Spirit of Christ so that you can be Christ to a broken world.
9 thoughts on “Be the Church”
I like that last line about calmly, but firmly asking for the guns.
Indeed. If the Sandy Hook shooting doesn’t drive home the seriousness of mental instability+guns and our responsibility to intervene, then I don’t know what could. Church, this is not a drill.
“Thank you for this writing. I believe it with all my heart — and it is time. God is doing something in our church and I hope the result is that the whole congregation will be refined in the fire, purged and get rid of our lukewarmness.!!!”
On Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 12:10 PM, asktheBigot
It seems as if Adam Lanza was a church attendee.
So, The Church, “God’s prescriptions for mental health”, was in this case, unable to over come the effect of Adam’s broken home.
Thanks for the comment, Keith. It gives me the opportunity to make an important clarification.
I love the adage “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” It’s so true. While membership in a local church is vital to a growing Christian life, simply walking into a building every week does not have transforming power. What does have transforming power then? God’s people (the Church), God’s principles (the Word), and prayer (talking and listening to God.) When we have all three of these at work in our lives we will experience mental, emotional, physical, fiscal, and spiritual health. In an attempt to stay on topic, I will focus on only one of those- “the Church.”
The Church is a group of people who purpose to live out the principles of scripture together. Being the Church involves confession to God and one another (transparency and accountability), corporate worship (not just singing but offering your whole self to God), corporate prayer, doing life together, and meeting one another’s needs. Being the Church involves a willingness to open up, be committed, personally sacrifice for one another, and submit to leadership. Plenty of people “grew up in the church” (went into a building every week) but never personally committed themselves to the apostles teaching (the Word), fellowship (which involves vulnerability) breaking of bread (living life together), and prayer. (Acts 2:42) It is possible for one to “attend” church but never experience “the Church.” Europe is full of magnificent church buildings, and China has very few. But the Church in China is the one that is alive.
Regarding Adam Lansa, it’s God job to make judgements about salvation. (Though if a church spokesman said “it was unclear how often Lanza and his mother attended services” I wouldn’t bet on him having deep relationships there.) But scripture is clear that you will know whether or not someone is “in Christ” by the fruits of their life. (Gal. 5:21)
What I can say is that if the local church is applying the commands to reach out to the “least of these,” bear one another’s burdens, care for orphans and widows (figurative bookends for all those who are needy), be devoted to one another in brotherly love, confess their sins to one another, go to their brother privately to show him his fault, be reconciled to one another, restore one another gently, give to God’s people who are in need, honor one another above themselves, rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, etc… then at least one or two people will be tuned in if there is an individual in their midst whose world is coming apart.
As humans we have a need for food, shelter, sleep, air, etc… Socially, we have a need to be known intimately. In our Women’s Ministry, we say “You don’t have to tell everyone everything. But you had better be telling someone everything.” Why? Because isolation, shame, and secrecy pave the way to despair. And despair drives people to destructive decisions.
The true Church is defined by genuine relationships proven by transparency, accountability, encouragement, security, and sacrifice. If you don’t have those qualities in relationships with other Christ-followers then you may be filing in and out of a building, but you are not participating in the Church.
Abandonment of our religion has brought us much violence and destruction and I expect more, from people and from government. Both, as churches lose influence, are less restrained. And no church is more than the combination of its practitioners’ contributions, seems to me. You can’t keep guns (or knives, or clubs) from free nutcases; a neighbor bought Lanza’s. Can’t even keep drugs from kids…The government prefers a disarmed populace, which is why it goes after guns rather than after the gunners, I suppose.
But the churches have lain pretty low as all this has built up since about 1960, seems to me. Because they knew a lot of adherents were fake and would vanish if they acted seriously…forgetting, perhaps, the ancient duty to bear witness…
Thanks for your comments. You are right about churches laying low. I think we are on the edge of a new church era (at least I hope we are), where we will see engagement as the key to credibility and we will be challenged to live out the difficult commands of scripture. The natural result of such action will be the winnowing of church attendees, with those who are serious about discipleship remaining and growing stronger.
This is an awesome post. This is where myself and the church I attend are going 🙂 Thanks for sharing.
Thanks! May God grant you and your church great success. Love it. 🙂
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