About Church ...
The initial draft of today’s post was going to contain the following:
- A brief history of my church-going experience:
- I started at a small country church with my family growing up that met faithfully for an hour every Sunday morning from 10 o’clock to 11 o’clock. We had a lovely candlelight Christmas Eve service, too. And lots of potlucks.
- I moved on to a larger, more boisterous and dynamic church as an adult where the Sunday service typically runs for at least two hours, and there are midweek services as well. Christmas Eve services have been relatively recent and are lovely. We have lots of fellowship time. And there is life here.
- References from the Bible pointing out, basically, the following:
- “… as was [Jesus’] custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.” – Luke 4:16 (ESV)
- In other words, Jesus went to the building where the Jewish assembly/congregation met for religious worship and instruction and, as an adult, He taught there. He did not shun what was for Him the equivalent of church. Oh, and He is the true builder of the Christian church for which no one denomination has a monopoly.
But then last night while Jeff and I were out for coffee with friends, I remembered some of the stories I have heard or read over the years. Of those who had been in abusive/oppressive churches, where you were never quite sure if you will actually be spending eternity with Jesus when you died. Where weddings are a cause for sadness and mourning instead of joy and celebration. There are places that remind you often (and often harshly) of how horrible you are and that God’s “gonna getcha” when you inevitably mess up. But oh, here are all the rules – most of them made up by men and women no better than you, really – you need to keep so you can be righteous and pious and (hopefully, maybe) Good Enough for God.
In other words, mention the word “church” to people with those types of stories, and it’s not a place they want to go to. They’ll often talk about the shunning and judgments heaped on them when they fell short, about the lack of grace and mercy, of hope and healing.
And I didn’t want to add to their pile of bad things, even as I couldn’t delete the stories of those who go against what I do know the Bible says about meeting together, about the roles and authorities of pastors and teachers and leaders, about the need for fellowship and learning and instruction for reasons I had best not speculate about because, well … because. It’s not my place, particularly when lacking a proper context.
Nor do I want to dive into the stories of churches where grace becomes a license to do whatever you feel is right and okay, where sinful behaviour is basically given a stamp of approval because it’s all about love and “not judging” and so on and so forth.
Some days it can be easy to become discouraged and wearied by all we as Christians get and do wrong …
But that doesn’t mean we don’t need church – and I mean church in terms of a group of people who meet together in a building. We need one another. We need pastors and teachers. We need each other, as imperfect as we all are, for community, for learning, to be accountable to one another as we aim to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
May we learn grace. May we learn mercy. May we learn faith. And hope. And love. For one another and the world around us.