Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is the Church That Bad 4?

Just to hammer home my point, let's go further into NT churches. The Jerusalem church was pretty awesome in its first few years; huge numbers, growth, outpourings of the Spirit, evangelism, radical sharing of resources, worship daily, great teaching, prayer, focussed on the Triune God. They were full on for Jesus. For many of us, this is the 'NT church' we yearn for. I think God in his wisdom and providence gave us this church to give us a sense of hope for what the church could be. They got in a real bind a couple of times though. First, the distribution of food for the needy widows was favouring the Jewish Hebrew speaking widows over the Jewish Greek speaking widows. They got through that by appointing Hellenistic Jews and proselytes to leadership, a bold move. Then there was the circumcision controversy which rocked the church until they had the Jerusalem Council to sort it out (Acts 15). But it was not a bed of roses from there with Judaisers and pneumatics affecting the church (e.g. 2 Cor 10-11; Phil 3). But all in all, the Jerusalem Church was awesome. Saul put paid to a lot of its impact though in Acts 8.

The Antiochian church was pretty cool too (Acts 11, 13). Heaps of prophets and teachers, people including Gentiles coming to Christ, Paul and Barny giving them the word. Then they sent Paul and Barn out on the mission that changed the world. Rock and roll!

Most of the other churches kind of were off the wall in some way or another. The Galatian churches were nearly wrecked by Judaisers. The Colossian church was infected with a dreadul heresy which diminished Christ and was into a blend of Jewish legalism and philosophy and which saw Paul challenge them with the cosmic Christ who is utterly supreme and to live by the Spirit. Then there is the Ephesian church which started brilliantly (Acts 19) but which was ravaged by false teaching as Paul predicted (see Acts 20; 1-2 Timothy). The Cretan church was a mess which Titus was sent to fix. The Philippian church was a great church but they became divided (Phil 4:2-3) and Paul had to write to correct their false thinking, joylessness, loss of passion and division; and to warn them against false teachers. The Seven Churches of Revelation had all sorts of issues including lukewarmness and false teaching.

The point is, it has always been like this. It has never been this glorious place full of glorious people, unity, peace, spot on worship, brilliant teaching, every one out preaching the gospel, pastoral care flowing, prayer meetings overflowing etc. There have been golden ages and then tough times. Even in the NT we see this with the Ephesus church which started so brilliantly and then was deeply troubled by false teachers.

I think we have to get real. Let's keep the ideal as high as it should be but lower our expectations. The church is made up of sinners, of leaders who wouldn't make it in the world in many cases. It always gets locked in patterns and structures that need renovating. God will get us there by his Spirit. It doesn't help when the flock just rocks on off.

I really struggle to accept believers who say that they have given up on 'church'. In Auckland there are literally hundreds, perhaps 1000's of churches. There are house churches, mega churches, mainline churches, liberal churches, conservative churches, pentecostal churches, all sorts of denominations, ethnic churches, emerging churches etc. Are you telling me that there is no church out there for you?

If we claim that there is not, then I wonder where the problem truly lies. Could it be that rampant individualism, the idolatry of 'me', consumerism and 'freedom' has got out of hand? We treat God's church as a place to meet our needs, to pop in and out of at our leisure. We critique and do not participate yearning for perfection. If so, we will never find it.

To me it not about any of that. It is about honouring God by gathering to worship, fellowship, and witness. It is about seeking to become more than we are. Yes, the church needs a kick up the butt at times. Leaders need sorting etc. But, in the meantime we are called to be the ones who work from the inside out to change it, not to stand on the outside and rail against it. True prophets speak from within the people of God, identifying with God's people, bringing his word to it, but standing within it.

One more thought. Yes, we are facing a crisis in what the church should look like and be. In many churches our worship is pallid, the preaching is shallow, the worship struggling and light weight, the witness lacking. Yes, many of us sense that there is more. But, no one has found the solution to this in the west. Some think it is the mega church, others the house church, some the emerging church. We are in a complex age facing post modernism with all its complexities. We need to find the answer. The answer will be found by those who commit to it, work in it, pray and seek the way ahead. Jesus who builds his church will respond, he will lead us by his Spirit to renewal as he has done through the early church, christendom, reformation and on. It will be those who do not give up who find the way ahead. In the meantime, let's show the church, her leaders, and her people the grace we long for ourselves.

Enough... I must go to the gym and knock off some lard.

Eirene and Charis


Jonathan Robinson said...

Hi Mark, thanks for that. It is quite encouraging to think that the epistles of the NT actually represent a catalogue of the early churches' dysfunction!

But even in the way you pose the questions: isn't there a church for you among the thousand in Auckland? Betrays the individualism. We are supposed to be for the church not the other way round. If lazy apathetic consumerist congregation actually began to critique and encourage their preachers, preaching would improve. How are preachers supposed to learn to connect when getting feedback from the congregation is like getting blood from a stone? likewise with worship, outreach, social action, etc, people are just so lazy that they accept mediocrity as normal and dont challenge and support their leaders to aspire to excellence. Television has created a generation of passive consumers of mediocrity and the church reflects that.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan on the 'face' of that post you are hurting man, that is pretty condemning. While not a regular church goer these days (and I am convicted of that) I can't say I have ever heard any preacher/pastor church leader ask to be critiqued and I would doubt there are many in a congregation who would feel confident to do so. I would tend to think that is something that maybe lies more in the domain of elders/deacons (or whatever a church has).

This lack of interaction between the body and the man/woman up the front I am surmising and wondering if this has something to do with an invisible barrier created by the way we set up churches where the leaders are up there and the body is down there sitting in rows. I just cant picture that they had rows of pews or chairs in the early church or that was how it was envisaged. I realise that it is necessary to maintain a degree of order but I secretly like the idea that good things can come out of chaos sometimes.

Mark maybe it is only through the 'death' of this 'fragmented group of churches' that we will be left with a seed that will generate into a newer more vibrant church, who knows except for God.

I really have no idea and certainly feel it is not my place given that I have not earned the right to be critical (but cant help myself being an opinionated bugger) but know that as someone who is trying to find a home I often find church is a place of 'to much' going on for there to be much time for God. I don't want to be entertained, I want to be 'where two or more gather' and in hope find Jesus there.

Sean said...

Great work Mark, I may have to change my thesis topic to "A Dysfunctional Community: The Emerging Church in the NT"

Reading Richard Hays this evening, I was struck by this quote: One cannot follow Jesus except by becoming part of the community that he trained to carry out his mission in the world. I can't help but agree with that.

Thanks so much! Looking forward to Philippians, that Barthian stuff today was ok, but not as good as the NT!

Dr Mark K said...

I agree with your point Jason that my comment on the 100's of churches in Auckland betrays the individualism. I am being a bit flippant if I am honest. I don't get the idea that people need to shop around incessantly for the 'right church.' I can understand parents doing so for their kids to get a good children's and youth program to help them mature. The point is, that even if we allow for the individualism and consumerism, there are surely enough churches for the people of God.