Friday, March 11, 2005

Why Church Sucks and Is Completely Necessary

Note: These thoughts were sparked by an article by Eugene Peterson called Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons. Well worth the read, particularly for the following quote:

But many Christians would look at this church and say it's dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.

What other church is there besides institutional? There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church, because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except the church. There's sin in the local bank. There's sin in the grocery stores. I really don't understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don't get it.

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

Over the last year or so, I’ve started to believe that as Christians, we’ve really failed at what church is supposed to be. As I look at the early church, it was a community of people. They gathered together, not because they felt some obligation to do so, or because if they didn’t they would be “disfellowshipped,” or because they felt like it would get them into heaven.

They did it because they were a community. They did because they wanted to be around each other. They ate together, they met in homes, and they got deeply involved in each others lives.

The way we do church now in the formal setting does very, very little to encourage this kind of closeness and intimacy. In our formal worship, we sit in pews and stare at the back of people’s heads and sing songs to the front and listen to the preacher and pass communion plates silently. Very little community happens in how our worship times are structured now.

But I believe that, even though we could do some significant things to reform how we do formal worship, community happens almost in spite of these issues. Church gives the opportunity for many different ages and types of people to come together (in theory). I’ve walked down the hallways of my church and seen older women giving parental advice to younger ones and setting up appointments for lunch. I’ve seen people arranging to meet at someone’s house for fellowship and study. Bonds form through this really screwed up entity that God still uses to accomplish His will. It’s an institution that has taken care of my family and that I strive to love, in spite of its considerable failings.

One of the great ironies of the Christian life that have become really apparent to me is that Christianity is an intensely personal journey that is only done really effectively in community. I find myself amazed that God designed things in such a way, but there you have it.

Next week’s blog: Get Off Your Ass and Do Something (based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan)

1 comment:

Tony Arnold said...

Church and community ... we forget sometime, but when you read through the Griffith's and Jonathan Shaub's blog, you see the real community come out. Wow, we are doing in cyber space what we seem to have lost in physical space. I have to wonder if the protection of anonymity (or not having to put on some face) promotes real sharing of the heart that we have a hard time with at church.

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