What Church?

Why do our churches not look like the early church? Why do we gather on Sunday mornings and maybe small grops once during the week. We talk with our friends, share the latest news and gossip and then sit in a lecture hall to sing emotionally stirring songs and hear intellectually stimulating sermons, then say goodbye and have our weeks to ourselves with our other friends.

Why doesn’t the church act as our life and health and unemployment insurance? Why doesn’t it share meals every day? Why have we relegated mercy ministries to para-church organizations? I feel like if my church were to disappear tomorrow, I could easily replace it with some other social club. I could join a bowling league or a community chorus and fill the niche that the church currently fits in my life.

It would be so easy to pass this problem off to “the Church”, but the Church is its members. We are the church and if we see problems, they are only the manifestations of our individual issues. If the Church is not caring for the poor or seeking social justice, it is because the church’s members are not seeking to be imitators of Christ in His ministry to the outcast and downtrodden. If the Church is hostile and accusatory towards those outside it’s walls, it is because the church’s members have failed to see themselves in the chastised religious elite gripping stones to throw at the adulterous woman. If the Church’s main concern seems to be gaining political power and legislating a comfortable situation, it is because the church’s members have become like Jesus’ disciples on the road to Jerusalem; expecting Jesus to ride in and overthrow the Roman oppressor, all the while missing Jesus own words “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33).

The Christians of Acts shared everything and depended heavily on the community of the Church for even their basic needs. I don’t depend on my church at all. In fact, I often catch myself thinking about how much the church relies on me! Certainly I should be ready to help those in the church (or else how would anyone be able to depend on the Church in the first place?) but if the degree to which I bear the burdens of those in the Church does not cause me to turn around and lay my own burdens on other brothers and sisters, am I truly bearing any burden at all?

The Church

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Church and her position, commission, and mode of operation in the story of time. This song has become one of my favorite hymns because every time I sing it, I can catch a glimpse of the Church as Jesus intended. It is the Church firmly rooted and fully dependent on the Holy Spirit, eagerly anticipating the renewing of creation at the coming wedding feast with the Son, and passionately seeking to glorify the Father in defending the poor and destitute.

I also heard an great sermon by Francis Chan called “Is This Really Church” in which he goes into detail about exegesis and eisegesis. Being the high and might Bible School graduate that I am, I felt very good about knowing what he was talking about already, but he took it a step further than I’d ever thought about and talked about exegetical living. Basically eisegesis is taking preconceived ideas, notions and norms and finding texts that support those norms outside of the context of the passage. It’s generally considered a bad thing. Exegesis is the opposite, where you come to a passage and without any preconceptions, say “What can I learn from this passage of scripture.”

When we think of the things that make a Church a church here in America, there are a few things that stand out. Worship Music (4 or 5 songs with some prayers by the Worship Director interspersed), followed by 20 to 30 minute sermon by the Pastor, then the offering, another song, and then everyone gets to leave. Of course, this all takes place in some big meeting space with auditorium style seating so that people don’t have to look at each other and breakout space so the kids can go with the Youth Director. But if we look look exegetically at the model for the church that is laid out in the New Testament, I think we’d come out with a vastly different picture.

The Church that the Bible talks about is one centered around a community loving one another, providing for each others needs and sharing the Gospel. It was about breaking bread together and taking communion regularly to remind each other of Christ’s sacrifice for us all. Can we really call it Church on Sunday when most of us find an inconspicuous place to sit, soak up some knowledge and bolt as soon as we’re excused?

Not that Sunday services aren’t good things, but we as the American church need to recognize that we are called to so much more than the 3 hours we put in on Sunday mornings. We’re called to administer our spiritual gifts to one another in communities that are interdependent.

The Home of the Free

I went to church this past Sunday and was wary the moment I walked in and saw the stage lit up in red, white, and blue. The projectors had images of American flags waving in the breeze. The service began with an audio-visual presentation about American history and freedom.

I found it all a little upsetting. Since when did Christ’s Church pledge allegiance to America?

The pastor’s sermon focused on celebration and the importance of our celebrating the gifts and privileges that God gives us. In that respect, he wasn’t wrong. We are called to celebrate and bring others into the celebration with us, but why do we think American freedom is God’s gift?

In America, we are so quick to thank God for the freedoms and wealth that we enjoy, but why do we assume that these things are given to us by God? Of course God has allowed us to have these things, but that doesn’t mean it’s to our benefit. God allowed Hezekiah to live an extra 15 years to the great harm of the entire nation of Israel.

We say it is God’s blessing, but in all history, when has God ever chosen to use material wealth and religious freedom to expand His kingdom? Are American Christians somehow unique in the manner that God chooses to bless us? Is it so hard to see a correlation between the freedom and stagnation of the church in America and the persecution and explosive growth of the Chinese church?

The pastor seemed dismayed by the lack of celebration in the American church, and yet at the beginning of the service he gave thanks profusely for the freedom we had to celebrate. When has making something easier ever made it more meaningful or passionate? We so often don’t celebrate freedom because here in America, it’s free!