So this has been an interesting topic for me. So many people simultaneously proclaim belief in Christ, but indifference, even loathing with regard to the Church. They understandably believe that organized religion breeds division and hatred, and there are too many rules/regulations that surely Jesus wouldn’t care about. This is all aside from the politics, greed, violence, and poor pastoral care in abusive situations that formal Christian churches have been marred by throughout history.
On the one hand, I get it. Churches are filled with many, many negative things that can distract from the experience of God they are supposed to facilitate. Churches (across the board) have poorly handled politics, sexuality, gender, science, and abuse. They have sent abused women and children back to their abuses, utilized scare tactics to maintain control, and twisted Scripture to allow for prejudice. At least, many have. Many people in the churches have. Many people have. See where I’m going? People have flaws, and these affect churches.
It is astounding to me how quick people are to abandon “church” because they don’t like something about it while failing to realize what God’s Church truly is: a people. So if all the people who have a problem with practices or attitudes in the various individual representations of God’s Church leave, only those who are indifferent to or fed by those negative aspects remain… And nothing changes.
Now, are you going to reform the whole Catholic Church? Unlikely. Is the United Methodist Church going to be shaken up by me? Not necessarily. However, if we just bail on gathering with other believers just because there are things we don’t like or are hurt by, we actually run the risk of enabling that pain to befall others.
We also have this bad habit of saying, “My relationship with God is between me and God, so I don’t need church.”
That’s American individualism and privatized (ineffective?) religion getting to you. Christianity was designed for community. Every bad theological idea (think Jones, Koresh, etc.) came from some guy reading his Bible alone with no guidance or community.
On top of that, Christian faith is supposed to be shared and mobilized to help and spread to others. It really doesn’t matter if one believes in their heart if their hands and mouth do nothing with it. It may very well be a ticket to heaven, but if that’s all one is after, I have to wonder if that’s actually what they are getting…
Are formal churches the only way to do this? No. They are the most convenient, but no.
The trick is still being in community. Look at the passage at the start of this post from Acts. Believers met “day by day,” and they “broke bread… praising God and having the goodwill of all the people” (verses 46-47). It is vital to the life of faith to gather with others who share that faith for the purposes of growing in that faith.
Further, it is beneficial to gather and participate together in practices as old as the faith itself, like Communion, singing hymns, and studying Scripture. Churches are, by and large, the best places to do this.
Does that mean you blindly accept that body or denomination? Hell no. Never. As I said, churches are rife with problems that need to be addressed. The important thing is recognizing and living into our membership of God’s spiritual Church that transcends time and space. Let the churches be a tool to do that, but that doesn’t mean you have to love everything about them, same as everything else.
What’s more, if we get involved and invested, we have a higher chance of influencing the Church (and the world!) for the better.
I hated church when I perceived my call to ministry. I was sick of anti-intellectualism, false hopes, and fruitless beliefs. However, as I pursued my call and got involved, God did some cool stuff. I had young people struggling with science and religion coming to me and leaving at peace, knowing it doesn’t have to be an “either/or” scenario. I had people concerned about their sexuality leaving empowered and encouraged, feeling loved as opposed to ashamed. I had people coming to me who made terrible mistakes, expecting shame but receiving corrective grace because they had a pastor who (Lord knows) has made many, many mistakes himself.
This isn’t a boast about me or my ministry, but it is a statement about what God can do through all of us if we decide to reclaim faith and the Church for ourselves. Things can change in beautiful and powerful ways through you and your faith.
Is it leading or serving in missions? Is it teaching a Sunday School class? Is it chaperoning youth events? Is it helping serve Communion or greeting in worship? Is it money handling and behind the scenes leadership?
What calls to you? Where would you like to see changes in the church? Pursue it! Don’t abandon it so others can share your pain. Don’t hold up one of those anti-church, pro-Jesus banners that make no sense!
We can’t, as a nation, stay in the habit of simply discarding that which contains flaws. We would have nothing left. The proper response is to recognize what is important, what is good, what is pure, what is just, and to pursue and nurture those things TOGETHER.
Just a thought.
Peace be with you!