Friday, May 15, 2009

Is the Church That Bad 2?

I see there are a few responses to my blog the other day. Thanks to you all.

One of you said,'Yes there is a lot of criticism of the church, and perhaps that is bad, as it is easy to get hurt,cynical and overly critical. However I think that we also need as communities to be open to change and can't just accept the status quo as the only way to be. Many of us church drop outs have found that there is no place for challenge in the church, and no modelling of how to be a prophetic and helpful voice in bringing about change.'

I am interested in this quote of the notion of 'church drop out.' I accept that there are many who for good reason, walk away from a church. Churches are full of the imperfect, including leaders who fall short of the ideals the Scriptures give us of church leadership. However, I simply have never heard of the category in biblical and Christian thought of church 'drop out' in the sense of leaving behind all the church i.e. a post-church Christian. 'Church drop out' effectively means dropping out of the body of Christ, dropping out of the temple of the Spirit, dropping out of the people of God. To me, the concept represents our individualism whereby we narrow the faith down to 'me' and no 'us' (see my earlier posts on this). There is no such category.

Conversion in the NT involved integration into the people of God. We are baptised into his body and the thought of us amputating ourselves puts us in a very interesting situation. We have a very flawed ecclesiology and theology if we think we should or can. Not that I am saying we are not Christian, but we are in a state outside of the ideal of the Lord of the church (Col 1:15-20).

Now, if we have dropped out of a church but have found a new way to creatively fellowship with other believers, then that is a different matter. Churches are not places but people who gather and in-so-doing become what they are. Go for it I say. Find new ways of doing Church. God knows we need it! Our current model is not perfect and there are many failings and flaws in it. However, for me 'dropping out of church' and remaining a Christian is oxymoronic. Technically in theological terms we can still be part of Christ in that state, but everything I have ever read in the NT tells me that it is not God's ideal. We are not living as Christ would want us to if we are living our Christian life alone and without the fellowship of his church.

I am also interested in the statement that there is 'no place for challenge in the church, and no modelling of how to be a prophetic and helpful voice in bringing about change.' Isn't church about all coming together and 'being' church. There is place for challenge in every church, write to the elders, use Mt 18 processes. That doesn't mean it will go well for us as we do. That doesn't mean we will get our way. Often we won't. And God forbid I always get my way!
As I read Christ and Paul, they did not get their own way but they model a commitment to live the faith at all costs. They encouraged and challenged. But, they would rather have died than walk away from the people of God. Actually they both did. That is what Christianity is all about, challenging and paying the cost.
Perhaps it is just me but I have never let anyone or any institution stop me living my faith as I feel led and challenging when I want to. But I have found that there is always good in the churches I have been in. There is always something to learn in a sermon. Worship gets tired and shallow, yet I delight in refusing to be drawn aside by this from entering into deep intimate relationship with God with all my being. After all, that is the greatest commandment.
There are always wonderful saints who are doing their best for God and the King. I have been in churches that look dead in the water, 30 people rattling around in a brick fridge. But as I have engaged them humbly, I have always found deep faith within them. I am truly humbled. Dare I say it, but is it not arrogant to write off all the church as we do in our critical moments? I have always found that I can challenge within a framework of encouragement, and as I do, my voice is heard, because it honours the recipient. It is funny how people are open to being gently challenged when trust is won.
But, going back to my previous post, is church that bad really that it needs this rebuke? Sure it always needs to change, but really.... the Corinthian church is far worse than any church I have been a part of.
I think when we critique the contemporary church we fail to realise that the church from its inception, has been flawed. It is made up of sinners. It will never be the heaven on earth ideal we wish for. It is our job to be church transformers, but the process will be long and slow. And we are often as much the problem as the person sitting beside us we critique.
For me, beware of docetism. Docetism says Christ is divine and not human. The same problem manifests when we read the Scriptures as 'God's word' and forget it is also a human book as well, the divine clothed in the human. We do this with the church. We simply expect too much from it. Study Church History more; at times it has been appalling!
I have been done over in 2 churches and know that in the echelons of the national church I now frequent, that it is deeply flawed and in many ways far short of the ideals of the gospel. But give up on it? Drop out? Walk away? Well for me, I can't! I am a part of it. When I do I tear it apart yet further. No, I will join Christ who says, 'I will build my church.'
So come on western individualists, get real! It is not that bad! It is Christ's bride, warts and all.


Anonymous said...

this is not good, as you just 'know' this is driving me nuts :D and I now feel totally convicted of the errors of my ways but hey it is pretty easy to come up with excuses for not going to church (at least if you dont have to justify them).

You know it really bugs me how hard it is to find a church whose doors are open during the week when you might want to spend a quiet moment.

I actually am starting to think based on many of your comments in the last 2 posts on this subject that the church you/I should attend is not the one with the flashest set up, but the one that you/I can walk to (as long as it is not totally opposed 'belief' wise) and my logic for this is that it is the place you are most likely to find yourself amonst your neighbours and that seems a place that would be pleasing to God?

Alastair said...

ok ok, all this in relation to Matthew 18:15-17 if the one being called to account is the church do you treat them like a gentile or publican? Does that mean love them and treat them like people without a sound base to their faith ( as opposed to jew or pastor who would be expected to have a good grounding?)and then how do you continue to take their teachings? Should one bail out from that church but stay within the body? How is it you left a few churches - was it on good terms everytime?
I had a friend leave a church after approaching that person personally, then with a few then the elders on a teaching that was not Biblically based..the one was an elder so they stuck and he left. So I wonder when is good. If being there is showing support for the teaching effectively ( conspirator to murder because you are driving the car for eg) should one be there?

Anonymous said...

is it not possible that many people leave churches because they felt that 'they had to go' if they were 'christians' and as soon as you have this scenario people start looking for reasons to opt out rather than commit in.

maybe part of the issue is also the way so often Jesus is sold as a salve to 'all our problems' and suddenly life is to become a 'box of chocolates where they are all your favourites, people are encouraged then to attend church not to be so much drawn into a community and get some good guidance support and teaching in what can be a time of testing but because it is 'the thing we do'

now I agree it is the thing to do to be part of the 'body' in the good and bad times, it is a reflection in some way of the Trinity but I just think some of them have missed the point, they seek to become more relevant to the community from a social perspective than relevant to its spiritual growth ...... hmmmmmm Jesus forgive me the cynicism

Christina said...

hi Mark. It's good to be challenged on my use of 'church dropout'. I used it without much reflection or thought and I was really thinking more that its what I would be called by others. So I did need to process what it means to others, whether I identify with it and what it means to me. I think when I use 'church dropout' I am meaning someone who no longer identifies with the christendom model, structural, institution of church. I do understand and support that it is an important part of being a Christian to be part of a Christ-centred community, its just I don't find that in 'traditional' forms of church.

Dr Mark K said...

Hi Christina. If that is what you are saying, and I had more than a sneaking feeling that you meant what you have said, for sure! No problems to me on that. I think we need to all tighten up the way we speak about church to avoid such things. I am guilty of doing this and am working on. We are in a time of the church being reframed for sure, and I believe some new ways ahead will come from the 'church drop outs' in the sense you mean it. Go sister, show us the way! We need new ways of doing church. Just don't drop out of church, stay connected, find Christ in his community because he is there waiting. Shalom.