- Image courtesy of Richard Croft under this Creative Commons License
In my last post, I covered the five things I like most about church. In this one I will take on some of the things I dislike most. To be honest this is going to be hard to keep to five. A lot of things frustrate me about the church. Before I start my list I want to be clear that I’m talking about “the church” in the sense of what I understand to be the American church. The church I pastor, Wildwind Community Church, is a unique place. We were built largely around avoiding the pitfalls I’ll be discussing here. No doubt we have others, but hopefully not these! I know not everything I am saying applies to every church, these are just generalizations. Nevertheless, I think they are generally accurate.
1. The tendency to confuse events with processes
I come from the evangelical tradition, and in that tradition an event we call “salvation” is routinely mistaken (or substituted!) for a process by the same name. (The Free Methodist Church calls the ongoing process of salvation “sanctification” but it’s all part of finding God, attaining “salvation.”) We tend to overemphasize the event, pushing for conversions, salvation prayers, dramatic testimonies, etc. But life is much more a process than an event, and salvation is simply a way of describing how we live. Salvation is a term for what happens when an individual life is taken up into the life of God.
In my tradition people sometimes even speak of the “moment of salvation.” Of course what they are really talking about is the moment when a person formally converted. Salvation itself is a process. Speaking of it as an event creates the impression that one’s life before “conversion” was completely without God, that God was not “on the scene” of the person’s life, so to speak. It has created a great deal of silliness and what I call spiritual schizophrenia (fuzzy thinking) in sincere people, and it makes me angry.
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Church people and everyone else aren’t as different as you might think. Both groups tend toward black and white thinking — that things are all good or all bad. In truth, everything is touched both with sacredness and profanity. We are shocked and mystified when we see profane acts and words proceeding from supposedly sacred people and institutions, and we are skeptical when we see sacred things coming from a person or institution we had written off as completely profane.
The church — this institution that is supposedly the living body of Christ on earth — is no different. One needn’t study much history, or even look very far today, to see plenty of examples of profanity issuing forth from the church and those who claim to belong to it. It must have been this reality St. Augustine was thinking about when he famously said, “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” That whore is my mother too. She is, despite her shortcomings, one who raised and nurtured me and taught me right from wrong. I owe a huge debt to her. To this day it seems most of my life is either lived in service to her or in reaction against her. We can never fully escape the influence of our parents. Today I wish to pay tribute to this whore who, for better of for worse, I love so deeply. Here are the things I like most about the church.
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Recent studies have shown that the average congregation on a Sunday morning can tolerate only fifteen seconds of silence before someone feels compelled to break it with an announcement, a song…or whatever.
Too often the church is the enemy of our solitude. Too often the church is one more agent in the vast social conspiracy of togetherness and noise aimed at distracting us from encountering ourselves. The church keeps us busy on this cause or that, this committee or that, trying to provide meaning through motion until we get “burned out” instead and withdraw from the church’s life. Even in its core act of worship the church provides little space for the silent and solitary inward journey to occur (sometimes filling the available space with noisy exhortations to take that very journey!). — Brennan Manning, in Ruthless Trust
image courtesy of 123rf.com
And though we love to numb the pain
We come to learn that it’s in vain
Pain is our mother
She makes us recognize each other
— Linford Detweiler
I have long said that stories of brokenness and failure bind a community together much more than stories of success and victory. Not there’s anything wrong with success stories. Church (and all other) communities need them. People are encouraged and excited by them and it helps keep momentum going. But brokenness and failure create community like nobody’s business. If I stand up in church and tell you how awesome I’m doing and how I am one step away from the throne of God, and how God keeps doing one amazing thing after another through me, you will probably think, “Good for him. I wish I could say the same. I guess there’s something wrong with me.” But if I share my struggles with you, if I let you know that in some places in my life the going is slow and very rough, you will identify with that. You will think, “I’m struggling too. I guess this is normal. I guess we’re all in this together.” That is community.
Churches don’t benefit themselves by getting their people to always look and sound like they “have the victory.” The fact is that we spend most of our lives in uncertainty.
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I have an announcement to make that will be self-evident to some people and will scare (or anger) the living hell out of others.
There is no such thing as a Bible-based church.
Go to 1000 different such churches and you will hear about 1000 different interpretations of the Bible. Okay, maybe 10 or 20 of them will more or less agree.
Think about it. When someone asks the question, “Is this a Bible-based church?” what do they actually mean? Let’s walk it through.
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