The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church

Rod Rosenbladt

If you were to ask someone if there are problems in the church today, most anyone you ask will say, “yes!”  There is evidence not only in the news, but in worship services, book shelves, and television.  We can easily see the evidence when we consider all the different ways that church leaders are trying to combat it.  The Emergent Church movement and the Purpose-Driven movement are just two examples of people who are trying to find ways to be “relevant” and “seeker-sensitive” all in an effort to reclaim influence in today’s culture.

Yet even with the mounting evidence, it is a rarity for someone to step up to the platform and declare what the problem really is.

Lights up on Dr. Rod Rosenbladt.

In his definitive talk called “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church” (available at New Reformation Press), Dr. Rod Rosenbladt makes this charge: “there just isn’t enough substantial theology in most ‘mainline’ Protestant churches….”  The implications are clear: abandonment of substantial theology means an abandonment of our faith.  When so many churches are trying to find other ways of becoming relevant, what is missing is the structure of belief that is, in fact, the faith that they are trying to promote.

Rosenbladt sends his appeal directly to those who have once considered themselves as part of the church.  He all but calls them the casualties of this abandonment of theology: “you once believed that Jesus was your sin-bearing Savior, but that you no longer believe that. Or that you wish you could still believe in Jesus, but you just can’t.”  Leaving behind the theological foundation of Christianity, it has been easy for many churches to translate those truths into nothing but shoddy moralism.  There is not necessarily anything wrong with teaching morality, but “if we do it badly, the sensitive Christian believer can be driven to a slavery [to morals] as bad as any slavery done to them by a totalitarian dictator.”

Becoming a Christian, we all find that it is not the end of our struggle against sin.  The emphasis on moralism without the context of the Gospel becomes “just evidence that I’m not really a believer at all. If I were really a believer, this thing would ‘work!'”  What has happened is that we got the Gospel right for unbelievers, but then abandoned it for Christians.  We encourage people to “sign-up” as a Christian but then rescind the grace that God gave.  Instead we hand them a book of rules to live by and imply that any failure means that they were not even likely to be a Christian in the first place.  We use phrases like “re-committing my life to Christ” because a real Christian would not act that way.

What happens to those who are so aware of their struggle?  Rosenbladt aptly observes, “they did what is really a sane thing to do: they left!”  The perception is that the church has lied to them or that they are not good enough for God.  The interesting thing is that this was not made an issue when signing-up, but it does become an issue after being part of the club.  “We are pretty clear that imputed righteousness saves sinners,” Rosenbladt observes. “But can the imputed righteousness of Christ save a Christian?”

Grace and Christian Failures

If grace is sufficient to save a sinner, is it not just as capable of saving a Christian?  We have limited the power of salvation if we limit its work to saving people who are outside the faith community.  The Bible is clear that there is no other way to have a relationship with God, but by Christ’s imputed righteousness.  Rosenbladt says, “Christian failures are going to walk into heaven, be welcomed into heaven, leap into heaven like a calf leaping out of its stall, laughing and laughing, as if it’s all too good to be true.”  It is too good to be true!  That is the scandal of grace and the good news of the Gospel.  In fact it is good news again to those who have struggled to be Christians for their entire lives, thinking that they had to work so hard to maintain God’s favor.

Some, like myself, sit through the confusion and lack of theology because we read something completely different in the Bible and scratch our heads about how it does not seem to be what we hear from the pulpit.  What happens to others?  Rosenbladt explains “that they are angry at any and all religions and anyone who represents any religious position — but especially Christianity.”  And why wouldn’t they be?

It is not Jesus that has let them down, but it has been the lack of Christianity in our Christianity.  “People like this often speak as if Christianity ‘baited and switched’ them — just like a used car salesman ‘baits and switches’ a young couple at a car lot,” says Rosenbladt.  But this is not Christ, because it is clear that grace is sufficient, not only for the unbeliever, but also for the Christian.  We do not earn God’s favor, but we are given it as a gift.  That gift is free, no matter what may have been preached to the contrary.

Redeeming the Conversation

Personally, I am continuing to come under fire for my empathy and compassion for atheists.  I have been admonished in these exact words: “Empathy for God’s enemies equals apathy for God.”  Yet, to my critics I have stood firm.  Rosenbladt also obviously agrees that many, atheists among them, have become broken by the church.  If I am part of the body that has perpetrated this damage, should I not become part of the solution to the problem?

In effort to help find a resolve, Rosenbladt offers possible solutions which are very close to mine, though we have arrived at those conclusions independently.  It is important to engage in dialogue with people who have been ostracized and broken by the church.  Rosenbladt encourages us to “identify with the anger of these people at the church [and stand with them by agreeing,] ‘Well, of course you are angry!'”  If we can recognize the “bait and switch” and own the damage, even if we have not done this intentionally, we are doing nothing but acknowledging the reality that exists for so many.  Those who are not angry are likely sad and have slunk off into a corner, hoping that someone will again open the door for them and acknowledge their pain.

“And, believe me, the ‘angry’ alumni are listening closely to see whether we are going to defend the church as much as we defend the Gospel,” warns Rosenbladt.  If we reach out to these people, but still cannot offer anything different, well we are simply reinforcing their disappointment or anger.  We need to reclaim the Gospel for ourselves as we reclaim it for others.  We need to stand firm on God’s promises and remember that they are for all people, not just unbelievers.

Yet, it may still not be wise to “get them to come to church” with you.  The pain may be too deep and their anger or disappointment may be so strong against the church that they will not even entertain the idea.  Yet, Rosenbladt suggest, “if your friend can see for just a moment that the truth of the Gospel does not turn on Christ’s church, but only on Christ’s resurrection from the dead, it might be the first time he has ever thought such a thought.”  Certainly we hope that as we reclaim the Gospel for Christians there will again be a safe haven for those who recognize their sin and are comforted by the imputed righteousness of Christ.

________________
SEE ALSO: The Good News of the Bound Will

Advertisements

About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

8 responses to “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church

  • Hidi

    A fabulous book for those hurt by the church: Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church by Chris Jackson

  • atimetorend

    I appreciate the emphasis on grace. But as one who left a church with a high emphasis on the gospel, grace, and Reformed Doctrine, I’m not sure it works that easily, unless it’s just me.

    In my experience, a church which considers Reformed Theology to be essential also becomes, for me, too tightly wound around that doctrine. Systematic theology lurks in the shadows of the conversation to enforce its own political correctness and control. Adherence to Reformed Theology becomes so academic that it is no longer in touch with reality, or rather it becomes an alternate reality, where people posit make believe as Truth because they read it in a book, the Bible and had it interpreted for them in another book, by a Reformed author.

    I guess what I’m getting at is I think strict adherence to doctrine inevitably leads to things we can’t know being presented as knowable truths. And if you don’t agree with the knowable truths, you can’t fit in, because the doctrine only allows alternate views within a certain limited scope.

  • Sabio Lantz

    You guys realize that it is not pain and suffering that led many of us Atheist away from Christianity. Instead it was freeing ourselves from lieing (about Bible myths), about condemning (those who do not deserve condemning), of self-deception (about suffering being OK and much more. Atheism, for many of us freed us to love, think, and live richly — all the things many of you report your faith does for you. Ironic, eh?

  • Aaron

    @ atimetorend

    One of the main issues he presents in the talk is the fact that Christ is not the church. Any Christian tradition has its faults, but it is important to distinguish the message of Christ from the message of Christianity and adhere to the message of Christ where the church may go astray.

    @ Sabio

    Not all atheists are as unique as you 😉 …I did not write this for you. I wrote it for me! Rosenbladt’s words have helped me to heal from the hurt that I have experienced from the church.

  • David

    An excellent talk given by a man who understands the gospel as few in America do. I’m honored to call both him and you “Brother.”

  • Mike

    I have listened to this message by Rosenbladt several times since I downloaded it a few weeks back and all as I can say is WOW!! What a master of communication this guy is! He was articulating every single thing going on in my heart and mind. My self having a pentecostal/charismatic background can certainly relate to the utter devastation of legalism with its despair and anger and have in fact moved in the other direction a little to far almost antinomian in some respects, and have been a lot happier for doing it. This message is an absolute must for every christian. I was a little surprised to see his association with White Horse Inn and I am curious as to his take on the new reformed movement with Piper and those guys. But you almost want to say, Naw that cant be true! God is not that gracious, I’m not going to leap into heaven like a gazelle!!
    Mike

  • hippieseminarian

    Aaron,

    I forwarded this post on to Dr. Rosenbladt – I think I told you a little while back that I was his TA for a couple of years in undergrad? He is one of the mighty in our day, I think.

    Lauren (twitter: tree_hugger)

%d bloggers like this: