Thursday, August 12, 2010

Church, warts and all

"Church is the textured context in which we grow up in Christ to maturity. But church is difficult. Sooner or later though if we are serious about growing up in Christ, we have to deal with church. I say sooner. I want to begin with church. Many Christians find church to be the most difficult aspect of being a Christian. And many drop out - there may be more Christians who don't go to church or who go occasionally than who embrace it, warts and all. And there certainly are plenty of warts. It is no easier for pastors. The attrition rate among pastors leaving their congregations is alarming.

So, why church? The short answer is because the Holy Spirit formed it to become a colony of heaven in the country of death... Church is the core element in the strategy of the Holy Spirit for providing human witness and physical presence to the Jesus inaugurated kingdom of God in this world. It is not the kingdom complete, but it is a witness to the kingdom.

But it takes sustained effort and a determined imagination to understand and embrace church in its entirety. Casual and superficial experience with church often leaves us with an impression of bloody fights, acrimonious arguments, and warring factions. These are more than regrettable, they are scandalous. But they don't define church. There are deep communities that sustain church at all times, everywhere, as primarily and fundamentally God's work, however Christians and others may desecrate and abuse it. C.S. Lewis introduced the term "deep church" to convey the ocean fathoms of tradition that are continuously re-experienced at all times and everywhere.

It is easy to dismiss the church as ineffective and irrelevant. And many do dismiss it. It is easy to be condescending to the church because so many of its members are unimpressive entities. Condescension is widespread. It is common to become disillusioned with the church because expectations formed in the country of death and by the lies of the devil are disappointments. Disillusionment is, as a matter of course, common.

If the church is intended as God's advertisement to the world, a utopian community put on display so that people will flock to it clamoring to get in, it has obviously become a piece of failed strategy. And if the church is intended to be a disciplined company of men and women charged to get rid of corruption in government, to clean up the world's morals, to convince people to live chastely and honestly, to teach them to treat the forests, rivers and the air with reverence and children, the elderly, and the poor and the hungry with dignity and compassion, it hasn't happened. We've been at this for two thousand years now, and people are not clamoring to join us. Obviously, the church is not the ideal community that everyone takes one look at and asks, "how do I get in?" Clearly, the church is not making much headway in eliminating what is wrong in the world and making everything right. So, what's left?

What's left is this: we look at what has been given to us in our Scriptures and in Jesus and try to understand why we have a church in the first place, what the church, as it is given to us, is. We are not a utopian community. We are not God's avenging angels. Look at the church as it is right now and ask , Do you think that maybe this is exactly what God intended when he created the church. Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing us up in Christ, for becoming mature, for arriving at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church. (from Practicing Resurrection by Eugene Peterson, pages 13-14)