Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Climbing Out of the Church Box

My just-completed Ezra series dealt with issues of church corporate and individual. The New Year is a good time to sum up where I have landed on the church corporate end of the spectrum, as many people may be resolving to join, leave or continue to put church off entirely for another year.

As 2014 arrives, I am thankful for the peace with the corporate church God has cultivated in me over the last 13 years. I have come to believe that many people (including myself at one time) become disgruntled with church because they put church before and very often in place of a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This can happen through the church dropping the ball, as was the case with the church I grew up in which believed in liturgy but not in the Bible, Biblical Jesus or the Biblical teaching on fallen humanity. When I became a Christian, I could not set foot in a place with liturgy because of how my own experience with a liturgical church had blinded myself and the congregation into thinking it was Christian: that it could be Christian without Jesus and God’s Holy Word!

But corporate church life can also replace a personal relationship with and maturity in Christlikeness when born-again believers, not the church itself, define their Christian life by Sunday morning attendance and perhaps an occasional volunteer stint with Vacation Bible School and the fall soup-supper or participation in an occasional fund drive.

Thirteen years into my faith, God has shown me that church is a very small part of who I am as His child.

God has brought me to a contentment with and surety of Him so that I can worship the Triune God even in a place where He is not worshipped. Even in a church that is not a church because God and His Word are not acknowledged, revered or understood nor Jesus credited as the creator and author of faith itself, I can worship because I do know and acknowledge these things.

And when I leave a house of worship, be it religious or irreligious, I know that it is in the leaving of the building that the majority of worship, praise and bringing glory to God begin. The Bible is very clear about how we are to live our lives. And most of our lives are lived outside of church.

One hour on Sunday is not to determine our theology or limit our walk with Christ. It must not encompass the be-all and end-all of our faith. Sunday morning is just the tip of the walking-in-faith iceberg.

So, for me, back when I was lost and in darkness, I needed to find a Bible-based church with discipleship. But I also needed to find a Christian radio program outside of church, a Christian school for our family, a Christian summer camp and place of retreat, a community of believers (inside but mostly outside of a church building) to model and witness what a relationship with Christ looks like (and what it doesn’t). I thank God I did. I thank Him that He provided so much more than just a church address at which to show up every Sunday.

My becoming a Christian happened more outside of a church building than inside. It makes sense then that my Christian life and service not be limited to within the confines of a church structure or its programming.

Once I was ready to stand firm and not be swayed by any form of teaching, God gave me peace that I can worship Him in any church, just as I can worship Him in any secular, antagonistic, irreverent place, in Christian community or out.

If there is anything I have learned in my 13 years of being a Christian, it is that it is not only about church. Once we free ourselves from the bondage of living out our faith in the context of church only (and all the questionable membership presuppositions therein entailed), we are free to live full lives in Christ. It will take initiative, growth, being teachable and discipled on our part (and again, much of this happened for me by reading Scripture daily, and additionally, by not limiting myself to one church experience. “Parachurch” organizations and individuals outside the context of traditional “church” were integral to my spiritual growth and grounding).

A Biblical perspective on the true meaning and living out of church will carry us to a place of spiritual maturity we never thought we could go. It will free us to journey with God beyond the limits of the corporate church. Then it is that we will be changed, moment-by-moment and year-by-year, into the Christlikeness God commands.

Gathering together as a church body is Biblical and requisite to a Christian life. But it isn’t the only thing, nor the major thing. And all Christian growth and fellowship need not be limited to within a church building’s doors. Nowhere in Scripture is it mandated that we attend only one church. And nowhere in Scripture is it deemed we must sign on the dotted membership line and swear off attendance and fellowship with any and all other church bodies or believers.

With the freedom to ground my perspective, understanding and practice of church on Jesus and His teachings has come, finally, a peace with “church.” The church train with its unquestioned, blindly accepted boxcars of habit, empty tradition and denominational, pastoral, congregational and familial pressure has left the station, and I thank God I’m not on it.

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
John 4:19-26

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