Part 1 of this series on Church is available here.
It seems like I run across more and more people, particularly on the Internet, that claim Christianity as their religion, but who feel no need to be a member or regular attender of a church. There is an increasing number of people who claim to have found a meaningful relationship with Jesus on their own, but who feel that church just isn’t for them. I would not want to limit God by suggesting that God cannot be in relationship with people apart from the Church, but I have to admit that I’m immediately skeptical of anything that these people want to tell me about God.
And it seems like many churchless Christians have a lot of things to say about God. Who God is. What God wants. How the Church is wrong about God. How the Scriptures have been misinterpreted. How God prefers to interact with the world.
To a degree, I understand this, because I have felt this way before. It’s much easier to come to my own terms with God and Jesus than it is to come to terms with God and Jesus in conjunction with the Church. There are things that happen in my church that I’m not 100% comfortable with. There are stances that many churches take in culture that I don’t feel like I can comfortably take. There are times that, as a Christian, I feel a need to vocally disagree with the majority opinion of the Church.
But it is dangerous to abandon the Church altogether.
In Ephesians 2, Paul describes the family of God for those who have chosen to follow Christ:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
The family of God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ is the cornerstone, the model on which the church is based. But the structure is only complete when it is joined together. It only becomes a dwelling place for the Spirit of God when the family is connected to each other.
If this is the case, then theology done outside of the Church is done without the indwelling of the Spirit. It may be logical. It may be passionate. It may be convicting. But if it’s done outside of the Church, it’s done outside of the Spirit of God. So when churchless Christians try to explain exactly what is wrong with the Church, and why they’re okay without it, they are attempting to speak truth about God without being connected to God’s Spirit.
But maybe the reason that some Christians feel no need to join the Church is because the Church has lost the ability to do theology well. We just don’t handle differences very well. And this is something that we need to correct. It is important that Church knows how to embrace diversity while also striving after good theology.
The Church ought to be inclusive of anyone whose foundation is Christ. But sooner or later, the Church has to start building on that foundation. In the past, it seems like the way we’ve done that is to establish an orthodoxy, and run off everyone who disagrees with that orthodoxy. The problem with that approach is that eventually, the Church becomes an echo chamber of like-minded people. It means that we cannot come to know God better, because everyone who is “in” already knows everything there is to know about him. Perhaps one reason that people are unsatisfied with the Church is because the Church is satisfied with its theology. The Church needs dissenting voices to spur us out of complacency and into the search for more and greater Truth.
It’s my hope that we can be closer to the nature and spirit of God than our grandparents were. Not because we’re smarter, or better, or more spiritual, but because we refuse to settle for what is already known about God. It is my hope that the Church will continue to be transformed into the image of God because of the ways we can reason together with other people in the Church. Because theology isn’t a one time job. We can’t just rely on what our parents told us, or what our favorite theologians told us, or what the Church Fathers told us, or even what the apostles told us. We have to take the truths that they’ve given us and keep working to grow more fully in our relationship with God.
And that doesn’t happen outside the Church. It won’t happen in a vacuum. It won’t be churchless Christians who discover new truth about God. It will be the Church in dialogue with the voices of the past, impacted by the indwelling of the Spirit of God, and moving ever closer to the image of God that we were created to be.
May we strive after Spirit and Truth. May we find life in the Church. May we never grow so comfortable with what has been said, that we stop looking for new life in God.
Part 5 – More Than Forgiveness – The Transformational Church – is available here.