Saturday, May 16, 2009

Is the Church that Bad 3?

Great conversations are now being had. George you said '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.' On the one hand I agree, it would be nice to find one. I am sure there are churches (often Anglican and Catholic) that open in this way. However, I know from experience that I have been in churches with open door policies and they simply had to close the doors for two reasons. One is that people came in and stole stuff! Second, because that meant we needed the church 'manned' (or womanned') at all times! There was no one to do this. So it fell down.

On the other hand I question the theology of church implied in the comment. What is the church? It is not a place? It is not about geography. Church is the gathering of people in the name of Christ. Jesus said something about 'where two or three are gathered.' As such, what does i mean to find a church open. If we go with Hebrews, church is entry into the heavenly sanctuary to meet with the high priest Jesus. It is always open. The temple curtain is torn. We can enter at our leisure. God's church is 'open all hours.' Another thing to say here is that, if geography is important, the whole earth is the temple of God. 'The earth is the Lord's and everything in it.' So, church is open in God's temple.

But I hear you. Sacred spaces are special. There are chapels at places like retreat centres which we can sit in.

You also say '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?

Here I think I agree with you. I would not push that too dogmatically as often people have good reasons for driving past 18 churches to get to one. However, I think the idea of church, life and community should come together ideally. That is, ideally, we would work near home, send our kids to the local schools, shop in the local shops, go to the local church and reverse the fragmentation of community that is threatending to destroy our lives. Much of western fragmentation is linked to this community fragmentation. Ecological problems are linked to us travelling all over he place in our cars. This would be reduced. Community life does not exist in our suburbs. This would enhance it. Churches are more gatherings of individuals and this would be alleviated if we lived near each other and had lives together outside of Sunday. Mission becomes highly complex as we work in one suburb, our kids are in another suburb (or 3), our sport is played all over the place etc etc. We have no decent connections which can become opportunities. We are all acquaintances whose lives never truly connect. Living and working in a community could change that. So, yes to me, if you can, go to a church near home and work and build community. God wants the world transformed, so why not become a builder of community in our local setting?

There are terrible negatives around us all going to big churches. One is that they focus the resources of God in one place so that it is over-resourced while the churches in the suburbs which might be half empty, but with people who have to come to under resourced churches and they struggle. These big churches in the condensation of resources inadvertently kill off others. An off shoot of this is that those saints who can't travel to the big churches and like to walk or get picked up for the closer churches are left high and dry. Another is that these churches tend to have little community and thus we perpectuate the community fragmentation of the world in them. Another is that they are expensive to run and so they become money orientated. Another is that there is little room for service in these churches for all but the most excellent. So, the people of God do not express themselves as they could in a smaller church.

Now this is hopeless idealism isn't it. Yet then again, is it?

Alistair I think your question relates to how we treat leaders who are not doing the business. You ask 'do we love them?' The answer in Christ is a resounding YES! Even if they are enemies, we love them (Lk 6). When it comes to their teachings, we must be very careful here. Where there is true heresy, then we need to question and challenge. Some churches have no lines for such challenge and then we have to make the call as to how far we push. I would see the person personally and speak to them about it. I would send a letter to the elders of the church about it. But I would do so as a last resort. The first real question is, are they teaching heresy, or are they imbalanced? For example, prosperity teaching is flawed, but in my view it does not fall into the category of preaching that Jesus is not Lord, that he did not rise from the dead, denying the Trinity etc. These are 'heresies.' Prosperity teaching is not completely wrong. The Scriptures tell us God will bless giving. It is the way it is applied that is wrong. It is also wrong because it it an imbalanced eschatology. Much of the reward promised in Scripture will not be experienced in this age, or at least in this age it will be partial. The emphasis in the NT is sacrifice and service now for eternal reward. It is an 'over-realised eschatology.' To me it is imbalance not heresy except perhaps in its most extreme forms.

On the issue of sitting under their teaching, I sit only under Christ's teaching. Preachers and teachers (me included) are merely conduits for God's word. I can sit under the teaching of someone who does not agree with me at every point, as long as they are not preachign heretical stuff, and receive from God his word. I test everything (1 Thess 5). I don't then condemn them because they disagree with me. Who am I to stand in judgement over the Lord's servant? I am responsible in Jude 20 for my own faith, no teacher or preacher is. So, I listen to a sermon to hear God through it and he speaks.

If we decide we are going to bail from this church or that because we disagree, we will be on the move for our whole Christian lives and never find a church. We do not follow Paul, Cephas, Apollos; we follow Christ! He is our Lord. We expect too much of preachers and teachers to have everything right and to live our lives dependent on them. They will let us down! They are humans, as flawed as we are.

You ask about leaving churches. I have only ever left a church because of the guidance of God to move away for training or another call. I have never left a church for any other reason. In one church, I wanted to stay on and lead the church, they did not want me to, I sought the Lord and he directed me to another church.

The church is the Temple of the Spirit which means it is a group of believers called by God togeter. We should go where we are called by the sense of God and stay there until called out. I know many great saints who remain in churches led by liberal ministers for that reason. They refuse to leave because they feel God calls them to and they remain. They are committed to the church and know that it is God's people and that it is imperfect. That is the point of my first blog on this track. It has always been great and bad at the same time. At times a church has a great period. Yet even in that time, there will be flaws. At times a church will struggle and even fall to pieces. Yet they are still a church of God. There is a time when he will remove the lampstand, but I believe God fights for his church.

On your friend, it sounds like a good approach. However, it depends on what the issue was. You see, one of the problems of the church today is discerning what is core and central as opposed to what is peripheral. For example, the resurrection of Jesus is central. I would leave a church where, after speaking to the person, writing to the elders and even the Presbytery or Bishop if the church has that structure, and they did not back down on this issue. On the other hand, if it was speaking in tongues, baptism, women in ministry, how the world was made, what hell is like, what happens when we die, etc etc, I would not leave on the basis of this. That being said, we have to live by our conscience (1 Cor 14-15) so do it. But, if you leave, go somewhere else, even if it is a home church. Gather with God's people for this delights the heart of God. Just don't give up on the bride! And, don't live in negative critique always hammering the church, generalising about it, running it down... there are many great churches with great people doing their very best. That is the point, I have never been in a church where the leaders are not doing their very best. Whatever you do, do it with love and grace. As Paul says in 1 Cor 16 in the midst of the Corinthian disaster, 'do everything out of love!' So, there is a time to leave but I would leave over doctrine in an extreme case. Otherwise, I would allow the Lord to lead me. Leaving a church is not a sin, but I would do so only when I really knew it was God.

All in all, I think we need to go to a local church and we should go to serve and not be served. We go not to critique but to connect. We go to worship God not stand in judgement over his servant. We go to build and not tear down. We go not to be babies fed on milk, but making every effort to add to our faith goodness (etc 2 Pet 1) and be proactive change agents. Even if we just run a home group, play a guitar, serve the coffee, we go to serve. We are to take up our towels and crosses within the church and not just outside it.

Will it be easy? Nothing in Scripture tells me it is easy. But if we realise what the church is, that it will always be flawed, and do not have a false ideal for it, it will be great. And then we as the bride of Christ, will be presented flawless before God.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow will need to read that a few times it is excellent stuff so I am not sure if th things running thru my head now since the first reading are relevant or not. Certainly not going to try and put these thoughts/perspectives into descending order for the simple reason I cant:-

We in the western world no doubt 'bring' to church (the body) baggage as a result of our generally easy life background (generalisation I know) - we have much less of a sense of community in the church because the society/family we live with is much more fragmented? i would imagine that the gathering of a church in countries where there is more persecution has a much different perspective a much greater sense of gathering to provide support to each other to be Christ to each other to uphold each other. I hate the way in some services they provide a 5min interval so you can 'greet the people around you' then of course at the end of the service many cant wait to rush away their duty done for another week. Set aside time to give someone a hug? Do me a favour these are brothers and sisters in Christ surely there is more than this.

We meet as the body of Christ and sit in pews or rows of chairs stairing at the back of the person in front of us ..... is that how a community meets?

How many preachers/churches outline what next weeks sermon is going to be so people can prepare, how much interaction is there in studying the Word during a service. Yes I know this is probably unmanageable and that is what home groups are for - or are they. If we are taking this aspect out of the sunday gathering or as the central focus then what is left. (by the way I hate singing repititous endless mindless choruses so I am biased) Worship? Well worship is good not it is better than good it is great, but only great if it comes from the heart not the overhead projector

Ha lost for words now which is probably good. I need to humble myself and go find a church (and I have decided it will be one I walk to) as I have no right to rail against something from the outside when I have not been prepared to show love from the inside. For good or ill where 2 or more gather I will find Jesus so it cant be to bad at all

Abba have mercy on us all