Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is the church that bad?

I hear a lot of criticism of the NZ church. I myself give some of it? Too much consumerism, no community, money money money, rubbish pop preaching, shallow repetitive me centred worship, bums on seats is what matters... and so on. Some say, 'we need to get back to the NT church.' I have one for us to get back to, the Corinthians! Check them out. Obsessed with status, divided, esteeming leaders and putting others down, harshly critical of their founder Paul, sexually immoral with one man having it off with his father-in-law's wife and others hanging with prostitutes, taking each other to court, some men opting out of sexual relationships with their wives to be more spiritual, going to idol feasts in the pagan temples, women coming to worship dressed as hookers, divided at the Lord's Supper with some (probably the wealthy and those of status) eating ahead of the others (prob. the poor) and so divided at the meal that unites, obsessed with tongues at the expense of the greater gifts, looking down on some gifts and elevating others, chaotic extreme worship with uncontrolled prophetic and tongues oracles blurted out, women out of control in the services, no belief in the bodily resurrection from the dead while still trying to maintain faith in Christ's resurrection... Now that's a NT church. Let's all go back there.

Check out Paul's response. It is not to say, stop going, opt out. It is not to tell them that they are a bunch of heretics and cast them aside... no he keeps calling them 'brothers (and sisters)', he urges them on in love, he challenges them to rediscover the pattern of the cross and reject division and heirarchy, to deal with their issues not in court but in the body. He does command them to remove the sexually immoral man but all in all, he urges and does not reject them.

The point is that the church has always been flawed. Right from its inception (here in Greece), the church has struggled. Why? Because it is not a divine organisation. We have a docetic (divinise the church) expectation of the church and forget its humanity. It is made up of people like me, sinners, who are at various stages of organisation. It is not a professional environment, a business. It is a gathering of sinners at various stages of growth in the Spirit. Why do we think it will so perfect? I think the church will always be flawed and weak and fail. Yet in it, God's light shines. Note that Paul does not deny the brilliance of the Corinthians; even in his thanksgiving in Ch1 he tells them that they are supremely gifted. But he corrects them, hoping not to use the rod, and to do so in love.

We need to wake up and realise that the church will never be heaven on earth. We yearn for it. We have a hope for a utopian ideal and the church always falls short. It will never meet every need. It will never meet every age. It will never meet every culture, perspective and be perfect. It is not a supermarket for spiritual health which we can discard and just leave.

No, it is a bride of Christ, and he is happy to married to someone who is not perfect but is highly blemished. Yet he laid down his life for us and will present us to God perfect and flawless (check out Eph 5). In its unity around Christ and its diversity in so many ways, it represents God in the world. Its flaws should delight us, because it means we can fit in. We cannot perfect it, God will do that. In fact, the more successful we are at mission, the more dishevilled the church will become as all sorts of people come into it with all their pasts, problems and hassles. Yet, these same people will be connected to the world's deepest needs. Beware those who seek to perfect it too much.

Check out the Corinthians in 1 Cor 1:26; 6:10-11; 7:17-24... they were ex-hookers, homosexuals, robbers, slaves; few from the senatorial and equestrian classes. There were a few well to do dudes like Erastus and Chloe etc. Yet, they were in the main, a bunch of nobodies. Kind of the like the 12 that Jesus selected to work with him. Kind of like me, an ex-drunken idiot who chased women, smoked the week, sought glory from sport and humour, and was generally a Richard Cranium... in fact described by my old English teacher as the most arrogant student he ever taught... guilty as charged! Forgive me Lord and bless him!

Anywhat, what is our problem? In 2 Corinthians Paul is humiliated on a visit to this church! Yet, I never see Paul give up on them. I never see him question their existence or want out. He experienced daily pressure for the church (2 Cor 11; 1 Cor 15), yet he saw that as his calling. Let's get real about the church, about worship, about pastors, about our old hurts... we have all seen bad examples. Yet Jesus said, 'I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.' Will we be on his side of the hell side? Finally, remember 1 Cor 3:17... 'whoever destroys (or corrupts) God's church, I will destroy him!' This is after Paul's challenge to the Corinthian elitism! Let's be constructive. Let's realise that all those churches full of old dears, or out of control young crazies, are God's churches and he loves them. I will not give up on the church. They will carry me out in a box before I do...

9 comments:

georgenz said...

Thanks

Rebecca said...
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Sean said...

Now that was helpful! Preach it brother! Looking forward to our classes together! Love your work!

AndyD said...

Thanks Mark, it is refreshing to hear the "let's get back to the NT church' argument get shown for what it truly is...idealistic fantasy!

Christina 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.

kooks said...
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kooks said...

What ever happened to the bride aspiring to be without spot or wrinkle? I know it's right to answer the church not to diss it...
hmmm... I agree, I think Paul's example is the encouragement we need. I just worry that sometimes we Christians are inclined to hang up signs saying "Bless This Mess" and carry on regardless...

Jason said...

Hey Mark, thanks for that. I really needed a new perspective because I have been so caught up in my own narrow way of seing things that I am finding it hard to see the good side of the church... in all honesty, I do know that going back to the NT church is an utopia and that there is no perfect church (I am part of it, so it definetely can't be perfect!). But my heart still desires more. At least to be part of a community that acknowleges that we dont have it all together and that is prepared to dialogue about it and to grow together. When there is no place for dialogue the community suffers. In light of that, we can do better don't you think?

Dr Mark K said...

Hi Jason. I am not saying church is all good! It certainly is dominated by a model that needs revision for sure. Community is a huge challenge! Your wanting more is great, because the opposite of tearing the church down is to let the status quo go unchallenged. All I can suggest is that you seek out a church that is like this. The thing is that there are literally 100's of churches around and they can't all be bad. On the other hand, authentic Christian faith to me is about us seeking to be the solution. Look for others with the same heart. Start gathering in a small group. Pray together, read the Scriptures and seek the Lord to see how you can be change agents. I am suggesting let's no longer make excuses and blame others for it not being the way it should be (or could be). Let's use what we have to make it happen. And as we do, let's do it in humility and grace. And let's pray for the church that we can become the hot good looking bride we should be instead of a tired old bunch of has beens... joking. I suppose we need to 'be the solution.'