The church is meant to be so much more.
Not an institution.
Not a social club.
Not even a social welfare center.
In our confusion and our muddled attempts to do what is right, we hurt others, we hurt ourselves, we damage the witness we have of Christ. We forget that the church here on earth is meant to be a shadow of the perfect community and fellowship we'll have in Heaven, which surely should make us sit up and reconsider what type of church we're creating and cultivating now. We get lost in the petty morass of what music, what Bible version, what clothes, what ministries we use to define ourselves,
I sometimes wonder if God experiences the divine equivalent of a face palm when He see us so busy and so obsessed with creating and maintaining our own idea of what church should be like, and all the while--perhaps--it's so far from what He intended for us. And meanwhile we're so busy, so self-righteously pleased with our efforts.
Search the Scriptures 1 Tim 3:14-4:5 took an interesting approach by focusing on the qualities we should aim for as a church, not just for church leaders.
1 Timothy 3: 14-15
These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly...that you may know how to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth...
The truth. Are we as a church concerned with the truth of the gospel rather than how palatable it is? (and this, to me, is a huge challenge personally--to "not be ashamed of the Gospel," especially now when political correctness is so significant) Am I, as an individual Christian and a church member/goer, grounded in and concerned with the truth, with examining and studying the Bible, thinking over and discussing what I hear? How important are the sermons and what we learn in Bible Study? When I was small the main point of church was tea break, the time to play and have nice snacks like chips and sausages which you mightn't get at home much. I'm still learning to readjust what I see as the focal point of Sunday worship, which often easily becomes areas of service, or people you want to catch up with.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Note the repetition of 'together.'
Unity. This is such a tricky word. So often we tend to define Christian unity simply by how well everyone gets on with each other in church. It is such an abstract concept that we settle for the absence of obvious conflict and often forget to examine what this Christian unity is supposed to be based on anyway. If unity is merely everyone smiling and shaking hands during tea break how are we any different from a Meet the MP session or a wedding reception?
What is our basis for Christian unity?
Christ is our center, the reason we are together, the bond between us. Not because we have similar backgrounds or similar culture. Not because of similar personalities or hobbies. These things help, of course; they are staple to the forming of human relationships; but unlike other friendships they should not be the foundation here. In this case, sometimes they become distractions.
As such, diversity in the church is a blessing because it highlights how Christ is central to the relationships in it. Conformity or similarity so easily replace Christ and we end up getting on so well--only because we all believe in homeschooling or we share a mutual passion for fine coffee (though obviously there is nothing wrong with either.) Show me a church where you have people from all different walks of life, ages, backgrounds, income brackets, races, languages even, and I believe that's fertile ground for relationships truly based on a love for Christ, for the cultivation of truly Christ-like love, which is characterized by grace.
Think about this for a second. This has some very sobering applications on the way we see difficult or different people in church.
Likewise, the repetition of "together"--being built together, fitted together--reminds us that our spiritual growth is supposed to be a collective event and not one that takes place in isolation, as the architectural analogies highlight.
Though we ought to take individual responsibility for our spiritual growth, God's greater plan places us within the context of a church, our individual growth as inevitably tied to the collective growth of the church--both because the church ought to facilitate our growth, and because we should contribute to the church's.
2 Cor 6:16-18
And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.
As God has said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people."
No idols--something we can only accomplish by cultivating a passionate love and worship of God. These temptations are always there, even as a church; our idol might be expanding our congregation, or being thought well of, or having more full time workers etc. On a personal level--how do we contribute to the culture and atmosphere in church, do our conversations reflect and reinforce the idols of everyday life? Do we create a community or environment which is conducive to and condones petty, habitual sin, the consuming pursuit of idols, from pornography to people-pleasing?
We need to encourage each other, to grow in loving God before we can truly get started on destroying the idols consuming us.
From Annie Dillard's "Church"
"The higher Christian churches - where, if anywhere, I belong - come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom."
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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