Why I Love the Local Church
For anyone who has been following some/any of the discussion that occurred a couple of weeks ago regarding “that missional guy” you might know who is out there… following Jesus radically… but not involved in the local church….
I want to set the record straight regarding my perspectives on this issue.
Over the last year I have expressed several concerns that I have with the state of the local Evangelical church in America, and it would seem that an explanation of how I actually view the local church might be appropriate. So here goes…
I Believe That…
The local church (ekklesia) is God’s chosen vessel for demonstrating himself to the world.
It has always been God’s purpose to reveal his incredible plan to the world and even to the heavenly realms through the Church (Eph 3:10). Before there was Jesus, no one could see God (John 1:18) but in Christ the fullness of God was revealed (Hebrews 1:3). He was God, manifest in Man. But then Jesus died, and left, and God inhabited the individual members of His collective Bride (the church). He was God, In Us. This is the most profound and beautiful mystery imaginable. And it means that today, in order to know God, a person must be able to see the person of Jesus. And to look upon the person of Jesus today, one must look upon His Body on earth (of which He is the head). In other words, it is through the Body of Christ that Jesus reveals himself today. It is through the church that the gospel is preached, and it is through the church that the Gospel is lived out. The church is God’s chosen vessel. It is His Plan A, and there is no Plan B.
An individual cannot be the church.
I further believe that the church is the gathering of the saints. It is not a building, it is not a location, but it is the local gathering of the followers of Christ. A gathering implies many, not one. To say “I am the church” or “she is the church” is a misnomer. No one member is the body, but the body is comprised of it’s members. And as best I can tell, although the ekklesia may be discussed in the context of the “global church”, I also believe that it is primarily discussed in the context of local church gatherings. Both are the church. But to be an individual that is disconnected from the local body is not. In other words, although a member of the church may be able to read his/her bible at Starbucks and still be a member of the church, doing so is not the equivalent of the ekklesia. The ekklesia works through the sum of it’s parts, and was designed to be a unit of plurality.
The church is God’s (and therefore must be our) most beloved and cherished creation on earth
The church, represents the collective set of believers for whom Christ died. We are His beloved bride, and his holy temple. We are also his adopted children and those whom he created before the beginning of all things to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. I believe that Jesus is head over heels in love with us, and longs for our affection and to gather us to him. Our groom waits eagerly to betroth us in the great wedding ceremony when all things have been fulfilled, and he loves us with all the passion of a love struck fiance. No other explanation can be given for his radical and self sacrificial love for us. He truly loves us, his bride. It is therefore impossible to claim the name of Jesus and not his beloved church. One cannot rightly love Jesus and not His wife.
But the local church has an almost 2000 year history of steering itself off track
Despite who the church is in Christ, it is clear that it is still comprised of a collection of sinners and recovering God haters. We fall short daily, as individuals and collectively. We are dis-unified, both denominationally but also internally and with those who fall outside of the walls of the currently accepted church format. Although this is a shame, and far from what Christ would have for us, it in no way invalidates both the importance and the necessity of connection to the local church community.
So, if it is any help, hopefully the above puts to rest any discussions about the idea that people like myself would in any way “call people to leave the church”. To think this is to entirely miss the point of why I am raising the issues I am raising.
So…Why “bash” the local church then?
First off, I would obviously not consider raising issues regarding our shortfalls as “church-bashing”, any more than working to correct your child’s behavior is child abuse.
On the contrary, the issue at hand, is……do we Love God’s church enough to be willing to enter into a conversation about how the church should be conducting herself in order to best portray Jesus to a fallen world and in order to love one another as Jesus intended
Consider for a moment, that the reason that so many people are finding themselves outside of a particular local church gathering; or struggling to find a church they can call home; or disenfranchised with church altogether, may not be because these people are disobedient or “bad Christians”.
On the contrary, in my experience most of these people find themselves in this position for the very reason that they woke up one day and decided to radically and entirely give their lives to their King, and tried to find a way to do so within the local church, only to be met with a response of moderation, or to find that there was no place within the local body for them to express this desire to follow Him passionately.
The church has its programs and its infrastructure, and has become (in its best forms) incredibly adept at inviting the world into cozy seating and polished productions with coffee bars and classy programs. I say this as a compliment. We have become incredibly talented marketers of the gospel…reaching our target market right where they want to be reached, with bite sized messages just palatable enough to contain biblical truth, but not so offensive as to turn them away.
But this same church seems poorly equipped to deal with (let alone support) anyone who actually takes the radical commands of the scriptures at face value. Total self abandonment doesn’t seem to be the call from the church to its members anymore, despite the clear message to the contrast in our beloved scriptures.
So, as we open dialogues on issues like
- Our Church Budgets – which are spent almost entirely internally on buildings and salaries
- Our disunity – whether denominationally, or internally over issues that 2000 years of debate has not brought closure to
- Our Hypocrisy – as we (a group of self proclaimed sinners) judge the sins of those around us despite the fact that the people we scorn are the very types that our King spent most of his time with
- Our Lack of Love – for those around us who our King calls the least of these – the poor, broken, and hurting in our world.
- And our Lukewarmness….which we are told results in being “spit out” of our Lord’s mouth
The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable – Brennan Manning
I truly hope that the dialogue that is happening in various formats throughout the Evangelical Church will not be perceived as enmity toward God’s bride and Church, but rather a sincere desire for us to become the lover that God intended.