Saturday, February 27, 2010
The American church is dying. The signs are everywhere: rampant hedonism, materialism, infidelity, superficiality, mediocrity, cowardice, compromise...the list goes on and on, but the one charge we must not level at the church is the one which seems most common.
Hypocrisy is the favorite explanation given by people who claim to follow Jesus and yet will not go to church. But it misses the whole point.
This lovely photo is what I used to think of church. A place. A thing. Now when I think "church" I think people. Not “people” in a general sense, but specific people. Names. Faces. People I belong to. I am theirs and they are mine. My place in the cosmos--my designed purpose--is to serve them, which is to say to do love to them or be love for them in a sacrificial way. My purpose and place does not change if they are prideful, hurtful, or hypocritical. As Jesus said, they are my family. Most families have their dysfunctional side. Even so, most families are deeply committed to each other. Most of us have at least one family member who drives us crazy sometimes, yet we would die for them. In exactly the same way, my role is to love the church--these particular people--just as they are, just as Jesus does.
Church is just that simple, just that wonderful, just that hard. Love in spite of everything. When it comes to ideas about organized religion, all else is a human construct and a lie.
Because “church” means people, it is possible to maintain a humble and hopeful spirit while obeying the command which is “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” And make no mistake; it is a command. Yet some who claim to follow Jesus treat it as a suggestion. Jesus said, "If you love me you will obey what I command." Could He be more clear? We follow Jesus by obeying his commands. And what is his greatest command? To love the Lord with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. So who are the hypocrites? People at least trying to live together in relationship even with their flaws, or those who claim to follow Jesus Christ but will not even try?
I wrote my most recent novel, Lost Mission, out of a sense of revelation, an understanding I have gained. It expresses an old hope I had, a desire to find a church (a place, a thing) where I could experience God without distractions. It explores the depth of meaning in the fact that those distractions end up being the very places where the Lord awaits me. Human frailty is the stuff of God on earth. Whose image are we made in anyway, if not the image of a man upon a cross? God does His best work through the feebleness of human hands, the superficiality of our prayers, and the inadequacy of our offerings. When I am weak, then I am strong. The Lord creates His church whenever and wherever flawed believers come together intentionally to praise and worship Him. God doesn’t need perfection. He doesn’t expect it. He knows us better than that, yet He stoops down to us anyway. Should we not do the same to each other?
It is not good for man to be alone. We were created to worship God in community. It is part of why God came to earth in a manger, why He endured temptation, why Jesus partied with us and grieved with us and fought with us and chose the gruesome mess that was the cross. He showed us that the Way is pure and holy, but it is not clean and easy. We can praise the Lord in solitary moments, but anyone who prefers the false perfection of solitude to the mess (and filth, sometimes) of church deludes himself. God will not be worshipped in that way, because it is not possible to love the Lord with all my heart unless I love my hedonistic, materialistic, cheating, superficial, mediocre, cowardly and compromising neighbor, who is so often a reflection of the me myself whom I so love to love.
So yes, the signs are truly everywhere: the American church is dying, and to save it we must join it. There is no other way.
Posted byAthol Dickson at 10:34 AM