Curmudgeon – noun [ker-muhj–uh n] a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person
The Garden of Eden was perfect. God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, communing with them in a glorious, supremely unblemished existence. Sadly, sin destroyed that perfection. Then Jesus came and broke the power of sin, and began the process of reconciliation. But the world still groans as it waits for the final redemption. In the interim, we are saddened by what happens even in the church. The church is not yet perfect. We expect curmudgeons to exist in the church, but we should not yield to them.
Sometimes people think that the church is to be such a holy place that we need to insist on immediate perfection for everyone. They profess shock and indignation at any indication of fleshliness and they do not hesitate to confront other believers with the hard truths about their faults. Ironically, sometimes these “shocked” people display their own fallen tendencies more clearly than anyone else does! The truth is that we are all cut out of the same cloth. Becoming holier and wiser happens over time. “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.” (I Cor. 1: 18 NLT) Salvation is a process of becoming saved; therefore we can patiently tolerate a certain amount of cantankerousness in the church.
Some people write off the curmudgeons and say that it is impossible to teach them anything. Granted, it is hard. But we should remember that curmudgeons often are so difficult to deal with because they hold strong (albeit uninformed) opinions. So a good strategy is to teach the truth and to broaden horizons. They won’t change overnight, but they can change.
The Apostle Peter encountered curmudgeons. After a shocking vision from heaven followed by an amazing display of Holy Spirit power falling upon the first Gentile believers, Peter accepted the obvious plan of God and baptized them. But the Jewish curmudgeons in Jerusalem criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said. So Peter patiently told them the story with all its glorious details. “Who was I to stand in God’s way?” he finished. When they heard this, the curmudgeons stopped objecting and began praising God. (Acts 11)
Another time, many of the early church had gathered to pray for the Peter when he was in prison. (Acts 12) Then the very thing that they were praying for happened! God miraculously delivered him from prison! When the girl who answered his knocking at the door told them that Peter was outside, the curmudgeons said, “You’re out of your mind!” When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” When they finally opened the door they were amazed! An effective solution to curmudgeonly behavior in the church is to eradicate ignorance with the truth!
But what is going to happen to the church with all these curmudgeons residing there with such impunity? Are they not going to drag the whole church down if we tolerate them? It is true that for the church to really prosper, curmudgeons should not be entrusted with leadership responsibility. Nor should they be given an outsized role of teaching or influence. But that does not mean that the church should expel them.
It is fascinating to observe how the early church dealt with curmudgeons. Some very studious, teacher-type curmudgeons started to teach the believers, “Unless you are circumcised as required by the Law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” What did Paul and Barnabas do? They openly disagreed with them, arguing vehemently! (Acts 15: 2) Then the church confronted the issue head on by convening a conference. In the end they said ‘no’. They would not burden the Gentiles with the Jewish law that even they themselves were not able to bear. They called a meeting to announce the verdict and there was great joy in the church as they delivered this encouraging message. (Acts 15: 31)
Curmudgeons aren’t so bad if you don’t yield to them! The church thrived because the curmudgeons were not allowed to set the course of the church! Instead the church unflinchingly focused on the goal. The curmudgeons could decide to like it or lump it.
So today we too should expect to encounter curmudgeons in the church, but we should not yield to them. Each of us can become progressively purer and increasingly insightful together. We groan and long for the complete reconciliation of our world. Eventually, in God’s perfect time, He will do it! He will restore the cosmos to a wonderful and glorious nirvana as it was in the very beginning!