If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian community in which we have been placed, even when there are no great experiences, no noticeable riches, but much weakness, difficulty, and little faith—and if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so miserable and so insignificant and does not at all live up to our expectations—then we hinder God from letting our community grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us all in Jesus Christ.
(p. 37). What?! We can’t complain? But complaining is our favorite past time! It’s our right as Americans!
(1Co 10:9-10 ESV) 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
(Phi 2:14-16 ESV) 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
(Jam 5:9 ESV) 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
“Grumble” is borrowed from Exodus, the same word used of the Israelites in their constant complaining about Moses, the desert, and even God. Several times, God threatened to kill the entire nation for their constant complaining, eventually resulting in those who left Egypt — other than Joshua and Caleb – dying in the desert and never seeing the Promised Land. Complaining is a far deeper sin than we like to imagine.
Bonhoeffer warns us that if we can’t be happy with small blessings, God may not give us large ones. If we can’t appreciate the joy of community — even with the imperfect, if we can’t enjoy the blessings God gives us in our congregation, the friends, the children, the babies, the singing, the worship, the giving — if we can only see the problems and see none of the glories, then God just might take away even those blessings and show us what real problems look like.
And how often has that happened? How often have we spurned the blessings we have only to find ourselves in a much unhappier, much less blessed place? Why, oh why, do we have to learn to appreciate what we have only when we lose it?
Grumbling undermines the leadership of the church, keeps them from being effective and can destroy the church. There are ways to bring about needed change, but grumbling does not make the list. (This is not middle school. Acting like an adult would be far more effective than whining. Indeed, there is no surer way to make yourself irrelevant than to become known as a grumbler.)
I need to say, however, that not every departure and not every complaint is illegitimate. Sometimes we really do have to leave. Here are some thoughts –
* A congregation that defines salvation by boundaries other than faith in Jesus is a dangerous place to be. We cannot stay long in a congregation that teaches a different gospel. After all, even if we know better, our children will learn what they are taught, and we cannot let them be taught idolatry.
* A congregation that doesn’t teach the gospel is not a church of Jesus. When human philosophy drives the agenda rather than the atoning work of Jesus for those with faith in him, it’s time to leave.
* A congregation that doesn’t insist on penitent living is not a church of Jesus. Of course, we might disagree about what God commands, and that’s a different matter. But when the principle of submission to Jesus in all that he commands is lost, then the faithfulness element of faith is destroyed, and the church is no longer truly Christian.
* Then again, some people are called by God to reform a congregation. They will often know who they are because they’ll feel the calling. They should stay and fearlessly teach the true gospel and call for change, in patience, in love, in gentleness. After all, you can’t teach the gospel of love by being rude and hateful! Just don’t sacrifice the souls of your children on that altar.