April 6, 2014
Sunday 8:00 p.m.
Letter #325: Family Feudal System
I knew this day was bound to come, sooner or later. Ever since Joe gave his life to God, I’ve tried to insulate him from much of the “churchy” drama taking place all around us. I’ve tried to keep his focus on positive influences, ignoring the immaturity and pride so prevalent here. I didn’t want the poor behavior of fellow believers to taint or disrupt Joe’s new-found faith. But, he’s not blind or deaf, so he was bound to notice the stark divisions and rifts within the broader church in prison, especially contentious between various religious denominations.
Soon after giving his life and heart to Christ, Joe expressed interest in going with me to church services, so he began attending both congregational services for Christians and Messianic Jews. I got him signed up to receive the kosher meal plan that I receive as well, complete with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. I should have warned him about the heap of controversy he was walking into with this
decision, but I figured Joe may notice the divisions later. And if he didn’t? All the better.
See, at this institution, the Christians and the Messianic Jews don’t exactly get along with each other. The Messianic Jews are essentially Christians who keep their faith the way Jesus Christ and His disciples kept theirs—including the special feasts of remembrance and the Saturday worship. These traditions, they believe, were never meant to be stopped, but they aren’t essential for salvation.
The Christians here assume that the Messianics are keeping the Law as a requirement for salvation (essentially “earning” their own salvation), so they don’t acknowledge the Messianics as their “brothers” in Christ. You may recall that this was the reason I stepped down from leading worship in the Christian services—the Christians said I should stop fellowshipping with the “unbelieving” Messianic Jews, and I refused to break fellowship with men whose sole claim to salvation was based on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Well, at the Christian services and Bible Studies, Joe began to be told quite firmly that he should fellowship solely with Christians. Most disturbing to me was the divisive tone these “warnings” took. But most disturbing to Joe was that he was being told not to talk to “unbelievers”—the very guys asking Joe about the changes they could notice in his life.
Also, Joe started noticing the funny little political games the members of the Christian church often play, loving the positions of responsibility and authority they have given themselves. These issues are not unique to prison church, of course, but they thrive in a place where every man is alike: same food, house, clothing, jobs, etc.
Joe got so discouraged, he determined to stop going to all of the Christian-sponsored services and studies. He even asked me why I hadn’t told him to expect bad attitudes and divisiveness. We had hour upon hour of discussion, Bible reading, and prayer, and God gave Joe the determination to simply seek Him with his whole heart, no matter what others may say.
We’ve worked to change each group’s negative stereotypes of the other, but this is a complex and difficult issue fraught with emotion. “Church would be so much easier without the people,” one former pastor of mine said years ago.
And therein lies the heart of divisions, complaints, and misgivings: people. Fragile, broken people who desire to serve God with every fiber of their being often want to shove everyone else into their spiritual cookie-cutters. Good thing our Creator isn’t like that. So, we’re learning instead to be conformed to His image, while loving all our brothers.