WHEN GOING TO CHURCH IS SIN BY RANDY WOODLEY
The pastor arrived early for the Wednesday night prayer meeting. As often the case, there would be the regular faithful few and possibly a visitor or two. He began his regular routine of praying over every seat. This night, like all the others prayed that each person would hear from God and leave knowing Him better. The pastor prayed that there would be healing in people’s bodies and hearts and that he and everyone present would be changed for God’s honor and that the Holy Spirit would make His presence known. Above all he prayed that Jesus Christ would be honored.
As the people began to enter the church he welcomed them with a handshake or a hug. They began with the familiar words of the chorus, “God you are great and we are small-thank you for having mercy on us.” After the opening song and welcome the pastor prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and asked anyone else who felt led to pray to please join in. One by one, everyone in the room prayed with fervor and one visitor prayed silently. Several worship songs followed and finally they came to a time of sharing.
At least half of the people present shared at a deep level. One woman told how grateful she was to be in church after serving a prison term and through weeping eyes expressed her gratefulness to God for His great deliverance. Another woman asked for prayers for her wayward teenager. One of the men needed work and asked the congregation to remember him though he did not profess Christianity. Every so often someone spontaneously broke out in a song or a prayer.
After everyone who wanted, had the opportunity to pray the pastor prayed one last time and dismissed the meeting. It had gone longer than usual but no one minded. They had made contact with God and His Holy Spirit filled their hearts. Many had come discouraged but now there was a renewed hope. They all hugged after the meeting then they shared a pot luck meal together and went home.
This meeting seemed innocent enough. Later though it was condemned by many other Christians—being called “heathen” and “demonic” in nature. What was so disturbing to other believers about the meeting described above is that it took place inside a canvas hut where steam was produced by pouring water over hot rocks. It was a Native American Sweat Lodge.
Was it the place that was so evil? Could it have been the rocks or even the water? Perhaps it was the fact that “non-Christians” were present? Whatever the reason—the other Christians considered it unholy and would never fellowship with that pastor or that church again.
Consider the ritual that occurs in not all, but in hundreds of thousands of church buildings every Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. People wear their best clothes often because they are concerned about how others will view them. They watch a pastor, song leader or choir deliver to them what they think they need for inspiration and most often the members do not get to share what God may be saying to them. They leave without even saying a word, somewhat inspired but feeling somewhat unimportant and an hour later forgetting everything that was said by the Pastor.
Of course there could be Native American Sweat Lodges as well as churches that have lost their sense of spiritual life but how many of those churches who religiously perpetuate dead religion are condemned wholesale by the rest of the church? It is easy to criticize that which we do not understand—it is our human nature to do so. Ever since Cain tried to silence the voice of his brother Able, people have hated the difference in the ways that others worship God.
As Native American believers in Jesus we have a different history and culture than the rest of American society. Though Satan has tried his best to get us to be ashamed of our culture, often using the church to do so—we are happy to be just as God has made us. We will change everything that displeases the Father but disregard arguments and accusations brought by those following the way of the Judaizers spoken about in the Galatians. The circumcision debate ended in Acts 15 with the Council at Jerusalem.
This single issue, whether it be the use of Sweat Lodge, praying with smoke from plants like cedar, using eagle feathers, or any other sacred ceremony has kept untold thousand of Native Americans away from the church and from hearing the wonderful message of Jesus’ love for them. Let us go on from here content to glorify God together in what we do understand and to practice tolerance in what we don’t. People need to know to Jesus Christ.
“Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 10:4
The following essay is excepted from Randy Woodley’s book (www.EaglesWingsMinistry.com) : When Going to Church is Sin: And Other Essays on Native American Christian Mission, Healing the Land Publishers, Scotland, PA 2007.