Something has been troubling me…
Donald Miller wrote two blogs earlier this month about church. Whether you agree with him or not, his honesty is something our world, our faith, needs. However, I am troubled because, in reading Miller, and the many responses to his blogs, church seems to be something we must embrace or reject. Many of my friends are worn out and discouraged over the state of our churches.
One of my friends said something I found humorous in the saddest sort of way. He said, “I really don’t like church — in any form: not the institution, not the people. But I love the church at the same time. As Augustine says: The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” The tension my friend feels is a tension we all feel on some level if we are honest. We don’t know what to do with such a tension and many of us default to the embrace or reject mode. There is more to be gained by living in the tension than there is to disconnect from the flaws of the church or to divorce ourselves from the faith community because we are so fiercely attached to the flaws.
Paul warns, do not become the kind of church that “holds to the outward form [structures, rituals, programs] of godliness, but denies it’s spiritual power” 2 Timothy 3:5.
In many ways, the current church culture holds to outward signs of godliness and denies spiritual power. The pendulum swing from a structure-oriented church is to emphasize the spiritual and discard the rest. This is where, I think, we get into trouble. Allowing our faith to be dictated by the pendulum’s swing is more indicative of human-led church politics, than it is of a God-led community.
We’ve entered into a season of prayer at my church, gleaning from Kent Groff’s The Soul of Tomorrow’s Church. One of the concepts Groff expresses is this: structure without spirituality is lifeless, while spirituality without structure is disembodied. When we apply this to our perception of church, I think we are given a very nuanced sense of church and community.
It means our either/or mentality doesn’t work. Church is not traditional or new, maybe it should be both. Church is not just about worshiping God, it is also about being present to our neighbor. Church is praising and learning, crying and laughing, struggling and failing, trusting and doubting. Church is taking all that is who we really are outside the church and placing it before God and within a community committed to holding our hand while we press forward.
Miller says our culture struggles with nuanced thought. I think he is right and this struggle is probably part of why the church gets stuck. It is far more challenging to allow space for God to shape our communities His way, not our way, realizing this will leave room for the new and uncomfortable as well as breathe new life into a familiar foundation.
Robert Wuthnow puts it this way,
We must give our faith communities “both roots and wings — roots to ground them solidly in the traditions of their particular faith, wings to explore their own talents and the mysteries of the sacred.”
God has given us faith community. Even with all its issues, it is still a gift. The church is not beyond God’s power. We are not beyond God’s ability to use us in His church. We’ve gotten into this irritating habit, and I am guilty of this too, of thinking the church is ours. We often talk about tithing as “giving what is God’s back to God,” as our money is not ours in the first place. It is a gift. The church is a gift, an abused and broken gift yes, but one we ought to discard? No.
The church is facing an identity crisis because we take God out of the church and take church out of God. It’s not something we do on purpose, but we become so busy counting people and forcing programs, structure, and politics, or loathing the whole bit, that we forget about God and what our faith communities ought to be.
Last Wednesday, we talked about restoring the soul of the church and Psalm 23.
YAWEH is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul.
The only way the church can become what it needs to be in the world is through God: the restorer of souls. The only way those who make up the church can truly become the church is to be present to God. I think it is time we gave ourselves, and our church, back to God.