Yesterday I wrote a post that was partly about a gathering of the church where a person talked about his past involvement in the Masons. After I wrote the post, a friend emailed me, concerned that readers might think I was encouraging Masonry (and concerned for me spiritually - and I do appreciate her care!). No, that was not my intent at all. Masonry has many "religious" aspects, of that there is no doubt. But it is not a Christian church, nor is it a Christian organization. To be honest, I have serious concerns about earthly organizations (and a lot of other things) that label themselves "Christian" ... but that is another topic for another day.
In this post I want to try and make clear what I was trying to say in yesterday's post - not that anyone there was supporting Masonry, or being drawn into it, but that they were willing to listen to the man and his experiences of trying to seek God in a particular way, and then to lovingly point out where that way differs from the gospel.
The reason I wrote about the gathering was that I was impressed to see a group of believers who were willing to listen to a brother express ideas that obviously were important to, or accepted by, himself, without immediately jumping on him in a judgmental, condemnatory style. They asked questions in order to more clearly understand what he was saying. Then they gently, but firmly, addressed the problems they saw, steering the conversation to turn from beliefs that do not line up with the truth of the gospel, to what Christianity really believes, and to Jesus, who is the real Truth himself. This led to him asking them questions about the gospel, which they explained in more detail.
One thing I didn't mention in yesterday's post, which I have realized as I've thought more about this, is that in many traditional church settings, where there are large numbers of people, many of whom may not be mature believers, or may not be believers at all, this kind of conversation would be difficult, if not impossible. Even the front-facing, single-person led aspect of most church gatherings goes against such openness.
In this small group (a couple of the adults took the children to another room while this conversation went on), it was possible for people to openly discuss ideas, and there were some very mature believers who were really able to teach and point to Jesus. Because the group had just spent a good hour or more eating together, and getting to know each other more, and because they are all believers (so far as I know), all at different places in the journey but with no one claiming to be somehow spiritually "superior," there was an atmosphere of caring and a sense of freedom to be honest, without fear.
There are those in the group who are recognized as having the maturity and understanding, and the caring and lifestyle, of elders, and they did bring needed teaching into the conversation, but everyone was free to ask questions and to participate. The teaching was done naturally and with care, in the course of the conversation, and of course referring to scripture. Indeed, if anything, it was a time of discipling, meeting a brother at his place of understanding, and lovingly bringing him farther into the light of the gospel. In fact, by learning what other people believe, including those, like the Masons, who claim to some kind of "Christian" basis, and then comparing it to what scripture clearly tells us about the gospel, I am sure we all were strengthened in our faith. I know I was.
There was no fear of being "closed down" or "bashed" for what one said. I have had so many experiences in my own past where showing any doubt or questioning was sure to bring quick judgement. And so often, the vast majority of people in a church gathering, even if there is opportunity given to ask a question or make a comment (which is generally very unusual), do not feel safe to say anything or ask anything because there is a strong sense that only the "educated" few know enough. There's this fear, "What if I say something and it turns out to be wrong? ... And anyway, I don't know enough!" What has happened to the gospel that is so simple a little child can understand it? Why don't we believe Jesus when He says to bring the children to Him, and not forbid them - for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
To me, allowing that man to talk about how he had been seeking God through the rituals of the Masons, was really not different than Jesus when he talked to the Samaritan woman at the well. She had a little bit of the truth, but she also had lots of error mixed up in it. Jesus could have said, "How dare you even open your mouth! Not only do you have really screwed-up doctrine, but look at you! You're a mixed-breed Samaritan, the worst kind of pagan. And you're an uneducated woman of ill-repute! Even your own people won't hang out with you!" Or he could have turned his face from her and totally ignored her, refusing to have anything to do with her and her tainted condition.
But no, he starts from where she was. He starts from her physical need - water. He starts from her social and emotional needs - acceptance and love. And he starts from where she is spiritually, from the little she knows of God. He sees that she is truly seeking God from her heart. He sees her thirst for the truth. Yes, He points out where she is at, in her beliefs, and in her lifestyle, but He doesn't do in a condemnatory way. Instead, He shows her that there is an answer to her all her needs - and He introduces her to the Answer - Himself, the Living Water.