The other day, a friend posted something on Facebook to the effect that the church needs to detox from religion and awake from its spiritual numbness. This is a common thought among many who feel the church has drifted away from what God intended. As many of you know, I have been critical of church in many ways, and I would agree with my friend's statement. Having said that, I want to focus on what I think is a solution, or at least what is being done correctly.
I want to make a distinction between the Church as the body of Christ and church, as a local assembly or institution. The Church was given a mission. If we are in the body of Christ, we are commanded to love God by following Jesus, to sacrificially love others as Christ loved us, and to make disciples who also love God and love others. That is what we are called to do. How that will play out can and will vary according to time and culture. The basics remain the same. I believe that the church at times has done an excellent job of fulfilling the mission. There have been times where the church has failed miserably. There have always been local assemblies that have done what they were called to do, and there have been local assemblies that have failed. We tend to think of the first century church as the ideal, but a good bit of the New Testament was written to correct problems in various churches. The local assemblies of the early church had some serious problems, ranging from division over leadership to major sexual sin. Down through the centuries church history has been up and down, as assemblies and institutions have drifted away from the mission. The Church, however, has always been there, advancing against the gates of hell and bringing the kingdom of God to bear.
Things are really not much different today. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. The church in the West has gone of the rails in many ways. Part of the reason is Christianity has become Christendom, and the mission of the Church has been lost in the mission of one side or other of the political aisle. We have been caught up in culture wars, building empires, gaining "influence," and divisions over personality, tradition, or practice. Much of what is done is not very different from
what a number of other organizations do. Many gather each week to hear a motivational speech, or a
diatribe telling them how they must try harder and do better.
What I believe the church needs is not more preaching on 5 steps to be a better __________________, more ranting about getting rid of the "sin" and getting "right with God," or more talking about influence in a particular kingdom of this world. I don't care how big your church may be, how wonderful you're weekly speaker is, or how many programs you have. If you are not making disciples who go out and give the good news of God's grace and what Christ has done, you've lost me. I believe that the church needs to be reminded of what we were without Christ, what Christ did for us on the cross, and what we now are because of that amazing grace of the Father. We need to be taught what it means to follow Jesus as we walk through our day-to-day and try to love God and love others. We need to be in each other's lives, not just one or, at most, two days a week. We need to be discipled and taught how to disciple others. We need to live life together in a community that is gospel-centered and concerned with joining Jesus in the mission of reconciliation. We need to see, and be, examples of sacrificial love for our neighbors. We need to rest in what Jesus has done, not in
what we do. These things can be done in a variety of local assemblies, from a mega-church with missional communities within the church, to a house church that is out and about in their neighborhood, to everything in between. The assemble can be part of a denomination, or an independent. Traditional or contemporary, or some mixture. As I have learned, you can find the Church within the church.
I take comfort in Jesus' declaration the hell itself will not stand against his Church. Not because we are such great folks, but because we are the body of Christ. It is Christ that lives in us, and it is Christ
that is accomplishing the mission that the Father gave us. Does that mean we will always get it right?
Nope. It does mean that God can redeem even our poor efforts to do his will. The Church is there. It always has been and always will be. I do believe that the time is coming when the church as we know it will fade away, and the Church will be much stronger.
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