The Misunderstood Church

By Tom Gilson Published on May 20, 2018

Don’t you just hate being misunderstood?

It happens to Christians all the time these days, it seems. We’re “haters,” “against equality,” “anti-science,” and on it goes. If you haven’t heard it you’ve either been very blessed or very unaware. Wouldn’t it be great to go back to the days when Christianity was understood for what it is?

You’d have to go back a very long way. And that fact ought to encourage you. You’ll see why in a moment. It relates directly to this day of Pentecost we celebrate today.

Meanwhile I’m thinking about just my own lifetime. Over the last few decades I’ve seen the faith described as sexist. I’ve seen it used to justify Marxist revolution. Worst of all, I’ve seen most of White America simply assume we were all Christian, and the proof of it was that we went to church and got along most of the time.

We could go back a few more years to when Marx and Freud dismisses religion was as the “opiate of the masses” and “wish-fulfillment.” Southern slaveholders said the Bible approved of their sin.

I hate being misunderstood that way.

Misunderstood From the Very First Minutes

Then I look at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and I have to smile. It’s considered the day of the Church’s founding. The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples. They were baptized in Him for the first time! God Himself had come to dwell in them! And the rest of Jerusalem thought they’d drained too many wineskins that morning.

Peter had to stand up and explain, “Look, folks, it’s barely mid-morning. Honest! We’re not drunk like you think we are.”

How long had the Church been around before people started misunderstanding it? Oh, maybe a couple of minutes.

How long had the Church been around before people started misunderstanding it? Oh, maybe a couple of minutes.

Getting God Wrong

But look again at what the people got wrong there that morning. The disciples hadn’t planned this event, and they didn’t make it happen. It was all God’s work. That means it was God Himself that Jerusalem misunderstood.

So Peter, newly emboldened by the presence of God in Him through the Holy Spirit, stood there and explained. He told them about the prophecy being fulfilled there that morning, and about Christ and His resurrection. The disciples spoke in languages they had never learned, adding tangible power to Peter’s preaching.

And thousands came to faith in Christ, on that morning of misunderstanding.

Three Lessons

I draw three lessons from this.

First, if it’s easy for the world to misunderstand God, it’s easy for the Church to get Him wrong, too. The disciples had been with Jesus. They’d been studying with Him. They had let Jesus’ words reach inside their ambitious, self-seeking hearts and change them — a work that the Holy Spirit confirmed and continued in them. We have to do the same. Otherwise we have no reason to be confident we’re not getting God drastically wrong ourselves.

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Second, if we do get God right, the world is still bound to misunderstand. They’re going to label us, dismiss us, deride us. But if we’re following Jesus Christ, it’s not us they’re getting wrong, it’s God Himself.

Third, we can take these moments of misunderstanding as opportunities to explain. Peter did that, speaking clearly using concepts the crowd was familiar with. He used Scripture that He had memorized, too, foe which was obviously prepared. He’d done His homework. When the moment arose, he was ready.

We will always be misunderstood. Let’s pray and learn well — and live well — so that as much as possible, it’s God they’re getting wrong, not us. But let’s also be prepared to explain, with full knowledge and in the power of the Holy Spirit, as Peter did that first Pentecost morning, and thousands suddenly, for the first time, understood God rightly in Jesus Christ.

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