How to love Church
This article explores what church is. It seeks to explore the theme, how to love church in an environment where churches are pretty unloveable.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.Eph 5:25-27 (NIV)
Jesus loves the Church, us, for we are members of his body. (v29-30)
Admittedly, this passage is specifically aimed at husbands and how they ought to cherish their wives. It does however use as a model how Jesus loves his bride.
The Master himself tells us to love one another.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”Joh 13:34-35 (NIV)
This by extension means to love the church as a body of disciples. It is unavoidable that we must demonstrate love for one another as disciples of Jesus.
The big question is of course, “how to love church”?
To understand why this question is even necessary, I think we all need to consider our own personal experience of Church over the years.
A history of bullying and coercive behaviour makes it hard to love church
I was born into a family who were Christians but refused to name themselves so. You see, to call yourselves “Christians” was seen as espousing the wider Christian community. Christians were, as we were convinced, hopelessly astray and part of the harlot daughters of Babylon. (Rev 17). The question of how to love church would have been alien in this sort of discussion.
Scot McNight in his book, A Fellowship of Differents, speaks of churches that seek to promote “do’s” by enforcing “don’ts” on their memberships.
When I read this, I thought he must have visited the church of my childhood. Of course, we didn’t call ourselves “church”, oh no, that was too like the “Christians” of the outside world. In any case, Church refers to a building (so we said) and the Body of Christ is not a building. We referred to ourselves by the Greek equivalent, “Ecclesia” which meant we were a body of “Called Out Ones”. Anyone who referred to us as a Church was corrected with an amused condescension.
How best to describe the environment? Let’s take a contentious issue from the 80’s when I was in my teens in our church: facial hair.
Facial hair for men was a symbol of rebellion. It was harking back to the 60’s hippies. All sorts of tortured logic argued that someone with facial hair should be barely tolerated in our community. People with facial hair could not serve in any capacity within the church.
As a very young teenager, I remember a fairly passionate but liberal brother moved to our area with his family. He had a beard.
The massive division that beard caused in our body.
I suppose that a Christlike response of self-sacrifice for that man might have been to shave the beard off. He genuinely had a conscience that his beard was natural and that shaving it off was unnatural.
Reacting to his Conscience
It is not my place to question his conscience on this nor to question the logic. This was his conscience on the matter.
So, the response was to actively start pushing at his conscience.
I was too young to understand much of what happened. I talked to his wife many years later when we happened to live in another town at the same time. She related that that period was very damaging to them both spiritually. How to love church in that environment would have been very difficult to know.
At some point in that period, the father of a friend of mine from school became interested in our denomination. He started regularly attending and for a while it looked like he would convert. Then abruptly he ceased attending and walked away.
Someone later told me that another person had taken it upon themselves to discuss with him two contentious matters. First, he was dating a divorcee and second, he had a moustache.
Someone told him that he must shave off his moustache to be baptised. They also told him he could not marry a divorcee. How to love church when confronted with this?
It seems that the secretary of the church said that “perhaps we should be more careful who we preach to….”
I know, quite breathtaking.
I forgot to shave one Sunday and was asked not to perform my appointed task of the reading for that Sunday. The Secretary who made this request of me, was apologetic but pointed out that if I did, our bearded brother could make some argument that he too should be allowed to serve in the Congregation.
Clothing and Service
A few years later, when I was 21, I moved to a capital city in another state. I was a poor insurance clerk barely covering board and lodgings (and often not) and I owned one pair of “good pants” and an unmatched sports jacket that I wore on a Sunday. I was a member of an “ecclesia” in one of the rougher parts of the city. It was my duty to perform the role of emblem steward on a particular Sunday. That meant I carried around and served the bread and wine to the members.
I presented myself for the duty that Sunday and was taken aside by the secretary (we called them Recorders – whatever that meant) and I was informed that (although he, the Recorder, found it silly) the “ecclesia” had ruled that brethren performing duties must wear full suits. In Australia, in summer…..
I could not serve.
The Clothing “Argument”
Three arguments are put forward about clothing. These are still espoused in many churches today.
- The priestly garments were specified by God and were symbolic of devotion. Therefore we have a precedent for getting dressed up for church as the King/Priests of God in the coming age.
- If Jesus suffered on the Cross, surely we can suffer to wear a suit on a Sunday.
- We must present ourselves in our best before God on a Sunday. Would you wear just anything to see a monarch on earth?
Firstly, Frank Viola in “Pagan Christianity” demonstrates that wearing your “Sunday Best” was a custom instituted in the late 1700s and was not apostolic custom at all. There is no real scriptural injunction to do so. There is some minor link back to the 3rd Century Christians but that link is pretty tenuous. This isn’t how to love church, this is how to impose “rules”.
Dealing with the Arguments
Let’s briefly deal with each of the arguments listed and then return to our topic.
- We are not under the Law. The Law is not a precedent for Christian behaviour but was designed to bring us to Christ who taught us about Grace. In fact, you could argue that the Law was about outward appearances and Grace is about the thoughts and intents of the heart. The priests wore highly symbolic garb for a purpose. We dress our hearts in devotion to God.
- Are we really going to suggest that getting dressed up in a full suit on a summer Sunday in the Australian heat is somehow to be compared to the torture of our Lord on the Cross? There are a bunch of things we are called to emulate our Lord in but getting dressed up is not one of them. You can’t have a straight face and put the two things in the same sentence.
- Finally, I absolutely would dress up to show respect for an earthly monarch or ruler if the occasion called for it. An earthly leader only sees the outward appearance and as a mark of respect in the only way that the leader would be able to see, I would dress appropriate to the occasion. My God sees me every day, in the shower, on the toilet, labouring at my work, in my pajamas and so on. God does more than this. He perceives my heart. God sees to my innermost. He knows if I respect Him and what is in my heart. What I wear is irrelevant, my motives in what I wear are uppermost.
Is dressing up necessary?
If I happened to attend a very conservative congregation, and depending on the circumstance, it would be appropriate for me to dress up. Why?
Because, I would seek not to distress the “weak” ones of that congregation and distract them from their worship. It would be a kindness at least for the short term to not disrupt their worship. This is at least one way to actively demonstrate how to love church members….
If I stayed for a time, them perhaps I would seek to create a dialogue around this topic, but my intent is to enhance worship not destroy it. It’s a kind of “meats offered to idols” moment. (1 Cor 8:1-4) I will not allow my freedom in Christ to destroy the faith of someone for whom Christ died.
The Tyranny of the Weak makes it hard to Love Church
The difficulty is of course, what I would call, “the tyranny of the weak”. This is where someone’s weakness is used to control the freedom of others. In such an environment, it is difficult to know how to love church.
There is a fine balance we walk in love between the exercise of the freedom we have in Jesus and being mindful that our freedom might be a stumbling block for those who are spiritually immature.
Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.1 Cor 8:8-13 (ESV)
Paul says, “if food makes my brother to stumble then I won’t eat it in case I make my brother stumble.” Paul is not willing to hurt his brother for the sake of a meal.
Our obligation towards the weak
In fact, the Scripture is pretty plain on this point. Consider Romans 15:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.Rom 15:1-7 (ESV)
People quote this scripture to remind us to be very careful in not hurting the weak.
Of course, the difficulty is discerning who is weak and who is strong. Am I in my liberality weak and are they in their conservatism strong? Or is it the other way around? How to love church members in such a situation?
Approaching someone in humility
As someone recently pointed out to me, we should not conflate the “little ones” of Matthew 18 with the “weak” that Paul refers to in the passages quoted above. The little ones of Matthew 18 are people who are “little” in their own eyes – in other words, humble. This is very different to the “weak” that Paul refers to who are often, in fact, the opposite of humble.
Nevertheless, for each of us, I think the concept of humility should be uppermost in our considerations of whether we are weak or not.
I think you have to consider the context of Matthew 18 which is around the subject of humility. “Whoever humbles himself as this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
God’s interest is in our Intent
I think if you really boil it down most sin is based on your intent.
Yes, I get there are sins of omission and sins of commission, but let’s get down to brass tacks. I think you could make the argument from scripture that, fairly clearly, God judges our sins based on our intent at the time.
As an example compare these two situations.
David ate the shewbread (1 Sam 21:6) which could have disrespected God. Uzzah reached forth his hand to steady the ark and God struck him dead for his disrespect (in fact Israel’s disrespect) (1 Chron 13).
Two acts of disrespect. One resulted in death from God. Clearly, we are dealing with two different intents but both on the outside appear disrespectful to God.
Intent in Clothing
Our internal intent is clearly all that is interesting to God. If you come to church dolled up to the nines and your intent is to worship God in all aspects of your approach, then this is beautiful to God. If you come to church in a ripped t-shirt and filthy shorts and barefoot and you do it to stick it to the stuffy old folks, then this is likely to be offensive to God (at least, I think it is).
Where all of this gets tricky is in trying to reach some meeting of the minds between the dressed up person and the raggedy person. We can’t discern one another’s intent. How can my freedom and your devotion meet? How can we have fellow feeling and united worship? Can you discern how to love church in this environment?
The only possible answer is humility.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Php 2:3 (ESV)
If I esteem others better than myself, then I will approach any conversation between us with an open mind ready to hear rather than to speak. Remember what Steven Covey counselled in Seven Habits?
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Steven R Covey)
A framework for dialogue
I have heard Matthew 18 used as a framework for casting someone out of the church. It is not. This is not how to love church.
It is a framework for creating and developing a learning dialogue between people who have a disagreement.
Matt 18:15 is not about sin as an absolute – Sin against God – which could be styled, “being in a wrong position with God”. It is about being in a “wrong position” with your brother.
If you are in disagreement, the framework calls for you to have a frank, open and transparent discussion with your brother about what you disagree on (how you are in a “wrong position” with each other). But remember the context of this discussion. This whole conversation with the Lord is about humility. Whatever you do, don’t hurt one of these little ones (those who humble themselves can then be subject to domination from people who do not respect their humility)!
Applying the Framework
So, go to this person who you feel in a wrong position with and seek first to understand (to listen) and then to be understood (heard). You persist in this discussion, because this person is someone you are will unite with for eternity. It is not good that you remain in disagreement. If your disagreement is about your freedom in Christ, then surely, you want your brother to likewise be free. Not that you wish them to rebel against their own conscience before God, but that you greatly desire them to have a new and beautiful freedom.
This is the essence of how to love church.
But it may be that your friend is simply not willing to be considerate of your freedom and is obstinate in demanding that you abandon your freedom and comply with their wishes. You must heal this sharp division between you.
Remember, “sin” here means being in a wrong position with each other. It is vital that you dwell in unity and therefore this wrong position must be healed. If, even with a perspective of mutual humility, there is no persuading either of you, there is really no option but that you expand your discussion. This is wise. If you can’t find common ground for agreement, then there must be something you both are missing and it needs the assistance of others to listen and offer counsel.
Humility and Teachability
Ultimately, if one side of the discussion or the other are now completely dismissive (gk. parakouo) of the other, and fundamentally, this is a case of one side attempting to coerce the other to abandon their freedom in Christ for their own position, then it is time to lay the case before the rest of the body so that as a group, the body in that location can consider their position.
In all of this, humility and teachability must be key on all sides. This is how to love church.
It is difficult to see how a discussion about clothing or facial hair can reach such a level of dispute and yet, I have in fact witnessed this very thing. A brother very reasonably and with humility asked the church congregation in his location to consider its position on beards. The request was granted. I was not a “member” of that congregation and I am uncertain of the result, but the point is that this dispute has reached this level involving the whole body previously.
Ultimately, if the dispute is so sharp that one is unable to reconcile with the other, then you simply do not have agreement, you do not have a fellow feeling and ultimately, the question arises as to the fundamentals of belief. One party is as a publican or sinner. Pretty harsh position to reach. Certainly not how to love church.
Of course, if one party is as a publican or sinner to another, then the way we treat them is to never cease striving to rescue them to God.
Surely, if this relates to something as trivial as facial hair then realistically, it will appear that humility was an early victim in the discussion.
What if it isn’t something trivial?
The atrocity of turning a blind eye to criminal behaviour
Whilst we would certainly see facial hair as a pretty trivial thing to dispute over, realistically, the discussion is not about facial hair. It is about on the one hand, freedom in Jesus (avoiding the shibboleths of a church tradition or rule) or on the other hand, embracing a long forgotten symbol of rebellion.
What is unbelievably ironic in this is that whilst this debate raged in our little congregation, a criminal walked amongst us and did great damage to children in our congregation. In truth, throughout the churches for the last century and for many centuries before, paedophilia appeared in pockets. Our congregation was not immune to this.
Eventually, this individual was caught and was confronted. To my knowledge, the church did not refer him to the police. Again, I understand that the Secretary of our church said “we don’t wash our dirty linen in public”.
I won’t go into further detail save to say that it is hard to know how to love church which on the one hand persecutes a man for wearing a beard but on the other, lets a paedophile walk free with no real repercussions save that he was “disfellowshipped” or cast out.
Was Matthew 18:15 onwards a feature of this discussion?
There are some today who would no doubt be aghast that I have openly discussed this matter.
The desire to “keep the church pure”
One consideration in this background to why it is difficult to know how to love church is the arrogant assertion that we must “keep the church pure”. The church is flawed. Obviously. It is made up of flawed humans.
The body is actually reflective of Jesus’ body universally throughout the world and as such is beautiful in that as a whole, it is focused on worship and devotion to God. From a distance, it represents the true work of our saviour in the days of his flesh. Jesus is working for the perfecting of the Body so that he can present it faultless to our God ultimately. This is how we can love church. When we recognise it fully as the body of Christ, not as individual churches, but the worldwide, lovely body church.
so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.Eph 5:27 (ESV)
Churches are far from Perfect
The church in its current state is far from perfect. I don’t know how to love church as it is at present. In fact, it is pretty unlovely the closer you get to it. In concept of course, looking at it from a distance, it is a body made to worship God and as a witness to the saving power of John 3:16. It is beautiful and Jesus desires his bride very much.
There are many people who whilst absolutely committed to serving God have a very different view from others about what that service means.
The difficulty is when they feel that they have a duty to keep the church pure. I was at my parent’s house one day when a visiting couple who were staying there queried why a congregation I was part of, had not “disfellowshipped” a brother who was of a different view on some subjects to others. I tried to explain that our interest was in striving to find a path to agreement with that brother. Instead, they cut across me with a statement to the effect that “you have a duty to keep the ‘truth’ pure”.
You know when you find yourself so separated by ignorance in a statement that you don’t know how to even begin to bridge the divide? I was left gaping. I can’t love church like this.
The purity of the “Truth”
The truth? God’s truth is always pure and I find it an awful arrogance to suggest that we are responsible for its purity. The reference to “truth” above is actually a reference to a church, specifically that church that I belonged to at the time.
Its pretty offensive to refer to a specific church as “the truth” because it once again goes to the heart of the exclusivity movement within the church. Calling a church “the truth”, suggests that God’s truth is that denomination’s possession alone.
Keeping the “truth” pure? The sheer arrogance of suggesting that this is our responsibility is breath-taking. Christ will perfect his body and present it to God along with all creation. The body of believers is full of very flawed individuals. Humanly speaking, it is impossible to achieve purity (which I take to be, perfect unity) of thought around a set of doctrines and practices that are immutable. We are fallen, flawed, individuals who have received the one truth from God through His scripture in imperfect, weak, broken vessels.
There is one true gospel and we have received it, but our minds are human and therefore flawed and weak. Our understanding is dulled and our memories fail. In the moment we receive that truth, our mortal minds begin to corrupt it and our own prejudices, preconceptions and weaknesses cause the initially sharp, incisive truth to become something dull and only vaguely perceptible. The church that is made up of believers everywhere possesses a composite picture of the “Truth” rendered to us. That is the Church we can love.
All churches are flawed
I have related here some anecdotes that assist with understanding the weaknesses of my previous denomination. For every anecdote that I relate, the reader can no doubt relate ten of their own, whether they are from one denomination or another.
The divisions that we call denominations and even congregations within broad denominations are human based and fundamentally all too flawed. It is difficult to know how to love church in this circumstance.
In general, whilst it could be argued that all of this is divinely ordained and is part of God’s way of building character in His servants, we would be foolish to try and argue that these divisions should therefore be left without a call to something better.
Does this continue today?
Most of my anecdotes are more than 20 years and in some cases as much as 40 years in the past. This poses the question. Where is the church today?
How to love church today
In my previous denomination, there are some more “enlightened” congregations and there are some who cling to the behaviours described above. There is a problem of inertia among many Christians even today. We are by and large traditionalists and often legalist in our thinking.
It takes some spiritual maturity to effect positive change.
- There are some who in an excess of enthusiasm pursue change without much understanding based on a desire to be progressive but a lack of ability to turn to God’s word and drink deeply.
- On the other hand, there are some who out of an intense desire to hold fast to the old ways, again, lacking in ability to drink deeply of the word of God, refuse to countenance any change for fear of letting go of the traditions of their parents.
- There are also those who appear to hold fast to power structures and their associated traditions because they have made a “name” for themselves. Many hold fast to these traditions to feel safe attached to these great “names”.
Human behaviour in this regard is endlessly variable, nevertheless, these are the fundamental differentiators for many.
Denominations are not “Amorphous”
Generally, each group tends to clump together. Therefore, whilst from the outside looking in, a denomination may appear amorphous and with a common approach, realistically, within each larger grouping, there are many variations of congregations.
Liberal, conservative, radical and extreme, highly progressive and many shades of grey between. I personally have moved regularly between each until I now find myself estranged from them all. I think it is however reasonable to suggest that some congregations have improved somewhat from the position held in the 80s, 90s or even the early noughties.
The problem of childhood conditioning
The vast majority of Christians are so by birth. There is some data that indicates about 70% of Christians were born into Christian families. It appears likely from an insider’s perspective, that the majority of the 30% converts come from the more liberal, progressive end of Christianity though there doesn’t appear to be a lot of data on this.
Therefore, most Christians have grown up in the Christian tradition and were indoctrinated with a set of traditions in their most formative years.
As one of those born into a conservative Christian family, I can attest as to how difficult it has been to break out of those traditions and think clearly and carefully about some of these traditions.
Everywhere I look, even in the more progressive end, I find people who are unable to challenge these traditions because they don’t even recognise the problem.
Most of us can’t see that the church needs reform of epic proportions. You can’t nibble around the edges.
Man driven rather than spirit driven
Most churches today bind themselves up in tradition, ritualism and duty. This is a fundamental issue.
There are many traditions that guide churches today that have almost nothing to do with God. Some of these non-apostolic traditions (mostly taken from Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna) include:
- Having a building as our focal place of worship – going to Church instead of “being Church”
- The order of worship that we stick to regardless of our need for authentic worship
- Having a Sermon as the centrepiece of our worship (regardless of posturing that the communion is central)
- Having a Man lead our worship (however well intentioned)
- Wearing “Sunday Best”
- Sunday School
Rituals Overtake Worship
Churches have rituals that form shackles. Baptised persons eat the memorials, not unbaptised. The memorials must be a free meal of remembrance for all regardless of the stage of their relationship with God.
Many will quote 1 Cor 11:27 here to argue that those who are not yet in a covenant relationship with God in baptism and join in the meal are unworthy. They are therefore guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord and condemning themselves, not having sanctified the body. This is a gross perversion of the intent of Paul here. This is not how to love church.
The entire context is that people were coming as individuals rather than as a body to remember Jesus’ great work. In so doing, they were selfishly ignoring one another, particularly those who were poor and in need in remembering the most selfless act of all time. The act of worship had become perverted. The behaviour was unworthy of the act and in so doing they were condemning themselves for not emulating their Lord.
Ultimately, much of our service is out of duty rather than the spontaneous joy of our hearts. This is where ritual overtakes worship in the worst possible fashion.
If I have to sit through the droning of a half prepared, passionless “exhortation” ever again, I will… well, I won’t. I will walk out not in anger, but because I recognise that this is not God honouring and I want no part of it.
Our worship should come from the fullness of our hearts. If we sing, it must be because our hearts are bursting with joy and a desire to praise our God and His Son. When we pray it must be because we want, desire, MUST speak with our Father or His Son or both. If someone speaks, it must be because the Spirit has moved him or her to speak of the glory of God and to testify of their experience of it.
Duty has no place in worship. We must worship with a full heart in earnest desire of our God.
John Piper, in “Desiring God” writes of dutiful worship in this way. He tells a story of bringing home flowers for his wife. Delighted, she says “thank you so much Johnny, they are beautiful”. The husband in the story responds, “Think nothing of it, wife. It is my duty!”
If you think this is a good response, you aren’t married.
Do you truly think that God takes pleasure in dutiful worship? Dutiful service? Or does he seek our spontaneous, authentic worship?
Where should the church turn?
The church is hard to love in its present form. It is deeply flawed. For 2000 years, Jesus has been perfecting his body of believers and that will be the believers’ task for the next 1,000 years!
We can’t accomplish the purity of the Church and it is not our job to purify it. Jesus himself will perfect the Body of Christ and then hand it to God as a perfected and beautiful creation. (Phil 1:6 and 1 Cor 15:28)
We can work on things in Church and in ourselves to strive towards the kingdom of God and perfection individually and as a body.
Actively seeking the will of God
The first thing that we all must engage deeply in, is to seek diligently the Will of the Father in prayer. Having done so, we must be open to the Spirit of God. We must be ready to hear what God tells us in His spirit.
I suggest that most of us have become very dulled to the voice of God. Our communion with Him has become fairly unidirectional and not from God to us. God speaks to us in His word but only if we read with an open mind and a ready heart. We must have a conversational relationship with Him.
I recommend you read Dallas Willard’s “Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God“. The book has its flaws, but its a good place to start in developing this kind of a relationship with God.
We must not approach God’s word with a position we are seeking support for in texts and verses. Read with a mind that is devoid of a position and merely seeking to hear. We can assert anything when we throw quotes together without context. Read with a ready and prayerful heart and a willingness to challenge anything and change whatever does not accord with what we read.
Trust the process. God enlightens us and guides us through a process. Many things I think today took many years to learn and many life experiences to guide me through. It’s a process and it takes time. Allow it to do so. Listen to the spiritual conversations you have, allow God’s word to ferment in your mind and be willing to listen when God speaks through others. Have faith that He will guide you.
The pursuit of holiness, understanding, spirituality and devotion
Many see holiness as separation. They quote 2 Cor 6:17 and preach separation from the world as a form of holiness. Let’s face it, the Corinthians lived in a world that was pretty debauched. It was a world to be separate from with its uncleanness.
Holiness is not so much about separation. It is about being sanctified for a specific purpose. Peter says in his first epistle:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.1 Pe 1:14-19 (ESV)
God takes us from our former way of life and sanctifies, ransoms us from that life to a new life sanctified in God.
Paul spells out our obligation in this regard in Colossians:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.Col 3:1-10 (ESV)
But this pursuit of holiness is a separation from a life that does not glorify God. It is emphatically not a separation from the people that are not yet Christian. I have written extensively about this in articles before. Jesus did not live separate from the publicans and sinners, instead, he dined with them!
Personal holiness therefore is living everyday in the shelter of the almighty, acknowledging His presence in our hearts and keeping ourselves unspotted from the pursuit of sin. It is a state of mind that is always in communion with our God, always aware of His indwelling Spirit and conscious of Jesus’ perfecting hand in our lives.
If we come together in Church, we must use the opportunity to encourage one another in our pursuit of holiness. This is no social club, this is a welcome brief oasis in our spiritual journey to perfection and an opportunity to join together in a union of the spirit in worship in the pure beauty of holiness.
I am not talking about Sundays necessarily. I am talking about anytime that we are together, whether it be for a meal in which we can share fellowship in our union of spirit, a evening spent together in music and praise to our God or any one of many other opportunities, including Sundays.
The Utter Relief of Holiness
As John Eldredge suggests, there is an utter relief in holiness, in peace with God that comes from spiritual dedication and devotion to our God and Jesus our Lord and Master.
Church must be that one place where we put aside social stuff and instead experience joy together in our shared devotion. In this, we can learn to love church once more. Oh, and Church is not where we go on Sunday. We are church, so it is every time believers find themselves together and can share the joy of fellowship and union in Christ.
Can the church turn around?
In this article, I have spent a substantial time discussing the many major fault-lines that run through the human institution of Church. The many inhabitants of some form or another of Church make up the body of Christ. The body of Christ is not the human institution of Church. The membership comes from churches of all sorts in all places.
So, the big question is, what do we do to make our churches truly a part of the Body of Christ once more?
Big ship little rudders
Worldwide Christianity is a huge ship with many different interlocking parts that hold it in a form of stasis. It could easily be argued that the task is too big.
You and I can’t do this.
But Jesus can and will.
We can be his tools that he uses to accomplish change. We are the many small rudders that he can apply to turn this ship around. It just takes time and his mighty arm on the tiller. In our devotion to him and our example of personal holiness, we can do much.
I remember only a couple of years ago when I went to a little gathering at a friends place, and found a bunch of young early 20’s and late teens gathered together in unity around devotion to God. I got into a discussion with a young lady (I feel very old sometimes) who was discussing our mutual devotion to our God. Suddenly, she stopped and said, “Can we pray together?” I was a little startled by the spontaneity but agreed and readied myself to pray. She put her arm around me and started to pray. I closed my mouth and just enjoyed the beauty of the words she offered to our God. My arrogant assumption that I as the older male should pray was overcome by her beautiful authenticity.
Personal devotion, holiness and above all, spontaneity are incredibly infectious. Our willingness to be instant in prayer and communion with God, becomes very attractive to other spiritual but hesitant people, encouraging them to join with us in this most holy of practices.
Authenticity in an artificial environment
Too often we keep faking our devotion hoping that others don’t notice. Pretty soon, we realise that we have engaged in a lifetime of fake service that doesn’t serve God and certainly doesn’t help us.
We wear a mask to church, we change the mask and go to work, we get home and change our mask for our family. God sees the real us for all we try to put on a mask for Him too.
Get rid of the masks. Strive for authenticity in your personal holiness every day.
Your authenticity will rub off on your fellows in the body of Christ and you will finally be able to worship God spontaneously and united with other authentic servants of God. Pretty soon, this artificial social club will instead become the authentic body of Jesus.
Conversations in the Foyer of Church
John Eldredge poses a little story for us in this regard. He speaks of two men in the foyer of church. “Hey brother, how are you?” “Pretty good, Jim. Lovin’ life, praisin’ the Lord. Life is good!” “Me too, me too! Praise the Lord! Gotta go! Take care”
The first brother in fact has been arguing with his wife all week and this has been a pattern for a long time. He’s thinking about leaving her and the church too.
Jim lost his daughter in a car accident and is grief stricken. He doesn’t believe in God anymore and he is angry.
How many encounters have you had that way? They’re inauthentic and serve no one. We hold men’s retreats annually and a few men have asked me in a joking fashion if we all sit around a fire and disclose our deepest darkest secrets and cry together.
The fact is, that our retreats are very powerful and on the sidelines, many men do finally become authentic with other men and disclose what is happening in their lives. And that is a very good thing.
Men and women of God need to lose the masks and actually genuinely engage in mutual worship. That can only come when we are authentic and vulnerable.
Having a form of Godliness
Many churches today appear Godly, and certainly have an academic rigour about them. Many seem to tout the expertise of the speakers and I often see comments about the Sunday morning sermon or exhortation or whatever. Few speak of the worship that they engaged in. Frank Viola in Organic Church asks if they pass the Monday Morning Test.
The Monday Morning Test is simple. Are you still humming the songs you took joy in presenting to God on Sunday the following Monday morning? Do you find yourself wanting to speak to others about a particular testimony of God working in someone’s life that you discussed on Sunday? Are you wanting to get together with your brothers and sisters that night to engage in worship once more?
In short, is your life together in the Body of Christ an ongoing, authentic relationship with each other and with God?
Are you the Body of Christ or are you a social club?
If you can answer in the affirmative, then perhaps you can learn to love church once more.