By Jayne Ozanne
We’re all familiar with the phrase, well I’m rather assuming most of us are. Many of us who learnt it by rote in Sunday school will automatically add “1 John 4:18”. It’s quoted in sermons, at weddings, in prayer meetings and frequently used when counselling. I’ve heard it proclaimed when doing “spiritual warfare” and sometimes even inferred as a rebuke – normally, sadly, when ministering to someone who has just had the courage to be incredibly honest about the fact that they are fearful of doing “the right thing”.
The truth is though that it is often far easier for us to quote it at others than for us to live it ourselves.
Why do I feel so confident saying that? Because I believe the Church is absolutely riddled with fear! I believe it is one of the greatest unspoken fetters that holds us back and stops us from saying what we really think. It keeps us prisoners within ourselves, isolated from those with whom we worship and pray. It muzzles us and stops us from being vulnerable – after all, what would people think if they really knew what we are like, what we truly believe or even don’t believe?
You see, the greatest fear I think is one of being rejected – particularly from those who we look to for our sense of acceptance and identity. Our tribe. The group to whom we belong. The place where we get our affirmation, and hopefully perhaps one day our recognition – especially if we’re clergy.
I see it all the time, and I understand it because it’s intensely human, and utterly debilitating. It’s what stops people sharing the things that they struggle most with, for fear of being seen as weak. It’s what stops people sharing their questions and doubts, for fear of being unsound. It’s what stops people sharing their hurt and pain, for fear of being seen as too vulnerable. So instead we’re left with a vast army of super-Christians – who are just fine, happy, and healed. Large evangelical churches are full of them – and smaller ones too!
Have I gone too far? Are you now feeling slightly uncomfortable with me? Probably. But is it true? You see, I believe this is one of the greatest unnamed elephants in the room for us Christians, and it’s crippling us. It’s holding us back from getting to a place of such brokenness that our light can shine through who we really are, rather than getting trapped behind the masks of who we want others to believe we are.
If you don’t believe me, please ask yourself – would you be happy sharing with your Church the news that your son or daughter (or mother or father) is gay? Would you feel able to say that you’re deeply unhappy in your work, and that you feel life is passing you by? How about that you’re actually really struggling with the style of intimate worship when you’re just feeling so very angry with God?
We all want to belong, we all want to be accepted – it’s how we’ve been made. It’s how he made us.
The great news is of course that we are accepted! We know the answer – we’re all part of the Body of Christ! The problem is that we appear to have substituted “Body of Christ” for “Body Part within the Body of Christ”. We’ve become wedded to our tribes, rather than to the head – who is Christ. We are all fingers and thumbs, with no love or thought for our toes, our kidneys or our C5 vertebrae.
If the Church becomes fearful of itself, then it is no longer the Church – it is just another institution.
Let’s pray that Perfect Love is at last allowed to drive out fear, and that we start getting really real with each other! Let’s woo and fall in love with parts of the body we’d rather not think about, and ensure that the only thing we need to fear is being severed from our head, who is the source of all love, Jesus Christ.