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?
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!
Excerpt from Running With Scissors:
Freedom was what we had. Nobody told us when to go to bed. Nobody told us to do our homework. Nobody told us we couldn’t drink two six-pakcs of Budweiser and then throw up in the Maytag.
So why did we feel so trapped? Why did I feel like I had no options in my life when it seemed that options were the only thing I did have?
I could paint my room black. I could bleach my hair blond. Or use Krazy Kolor to dye it blue. When Natalie pierced my ear one night with a hypodermic needle nobody complained. My mother didn’t gasp and say, “What have you done to your ear?” She didn’t even notice.
Nobody ever told me what to do. When I was living with my mother and father, I could raise my mother’s blood pressure just by moving one of the cork coasters on the side table an inch. “Please,” she would say, “I have everything arranged the way I like it.” But at the Finch house, I could hack a hole through the ceiling in my closet to connect to Hope’s room upstairs and nobody cared. “You’re a free person with a free will,” Finch would say.
So why did I always feel so trapped?
I worried that my feeling of being belted into an electric chair was due to some sort of mental illness.
More than anything, I wanted to break free. But free from what? That was the problem. Because I didn’t know what I wanted to break free from, I was stuck.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31,32
I have never heard someone who wasn’t a Christian speak in those terms before. Sometimes I think that the Bible only has relevance to us today because we as Christians force it to have relevance. That if we didn’t keep parading it around, it would somehow fade into obscurity. But people are, in fact, looking for true freedom and purpose and meaning, all of which the Bible directly addresses.
There’s a “pit preacher” at my school who will spend five to six hours a day in the hot sun telling passers-by that they are sinful and going to hell. Rarely does he venture beyond this platform of condemnation. I wonder how different his ministry would be if, instead of words of anger, he offered freedom and purpose. I don’t doubt he would still be seen by some as a blight on the campus, but perhaps he would find more fertile soil in the people who feel trapped and optionless.
“When the Holy Spirit comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment;” John 16:8
It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict the world, not ours. I think if Christians in this nation were to stop trying to hammer morals into this country, we would definitely see it go to rot. But it is in rotting garbage that we find the best kind of fertilizer.