Despite its flaws, the church is critical for the Christian life.
For many of us, the New Year doesn’t begin on January 1st, but sometime in mid-September. Vacations are over. The kids are back in school. Migratory cycles have settled down with moves into new homes and apartments and dorms.
Some of us begin looking for a church or at least return to the one we neglected during the summer. Occasionally I’ll search online to see whether anyone has published any new, inspiring books about church in general.
I’m not speaking of course, about those who attack the idea of church as hopelessly broken, irrelevant, etc. Such vitriol has become tiresome. It takes no prophetic insight to spot the foibles of a gathered people who for centuries have tried to serve a God larger and more mysterious than they. No, instead I hunt for writers who have accumulated a certain scripture-enlightened wisdom that will help me appreciate my brethren afresh.
Those aren’t easy to find. Every year thousands of Christian titles flood the market that emphasize better living, spiritual experiences, biographies, dating, marriage, and gender issues. The industry seems geared to a Christian public full of disparate hopes and dreams. Nowhere is this more evident than on the subject of discerning the will of God, where the most concerned question asks, “How will Jesus speak to me?” “What is God saying to me?” “What is God’s will for my life?”
This by no means is a bad question, just sadly incomplete. It is as though the other members of the body of Christ don’t exist except to provide stage props for my personal faith journey. Who are Lou and Sally, Jack and Alice, and all the rest, but a potential audience for my budding ministry, or staff that keep church programs running. Our interest has waned toward understanding how the New Testament church impacts our experience and development as Christians. “I” am much more interesting than “we.”
But I guess I can’t blame anyone too much. If you squirmed in a pew for a lot of your growing up years (I did), or got burned by the church as an adult (I did), the very idea of it has the same tasty association as liver pudding. Maybe this is why the topic of the church and lawnmower repair ranks equal in Christian popularity. Who wants to revisit excruciating boredom or appalling failures?
Occasionally we’ll over-dramatize the negative effect those things have had on us, elevating them to levels on a par with war crimes. Strange how the hypocrisy, sins, pettiness, and mediocrity we ourselves casually embody become unforgiveable in a group of other people.
And yet Acts 20:28 tells mature Christians to “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” The mature pay attention not just to themselves, but to a church that admittedly needs care, and, far from being worthless, one that God obtained with His own blood. What other place has been cared for and valued to such an extent?
There’s an old saying that going to church no more makes you a Christian than going to the garage makes you a mechanic. I agree. But if you want to become a mechanic, the garage is a great place to start. After all, you won’t be changing any oil filters in the kitchen, or turning bolts while lounging on the couch.
Likewise, if you’re interested in ever getting on track with God, it won’t happen solely on the strength of some solitary enterprise. Somehow you’ve got to deliberately get up and go to a Christian meeting place. I understand that people can relate to God by themselves. I initially did. But after thirty years of observation, I haven’t seen one of them last for very long. Private resolutions to read the Bible or pray more or just “do the right thing” end up in the same forgotten pile as losing weight and cutting down on caffeine.
If you want a fledgling faith exploration to go anywhere productive, find a Bible preaching faith community and stick with it. There’s no particular magic to this, certainly nothing of monumental difficulty. Take it in steps.
- Go to bed at a reasonable time the night before.
- Get up the next morning.
I’ll be doing the same.
See you there.