Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I've had a question mulling around in my head for awhile now and since I'm in a writing mood, maybe I'll mull it out here! Forgive me tonight as my grammar, punctuation and social graces are not functioning as well as they should be. However, sometimes that "rawness of writing" is what needs to be expressed in order to really get one's thoughts out, right?
So there are two, not really opposite but maybe conflicting, opinions that I've been made aware of recently concerning church and our reasons for being there...the reason for it's existence. I'm speaking of an actual organized church in an actual building...you know, with a sign and a bulletin and a schedule and all that. I'm NOT speaking of "the church" as in all of us believers...the body of Christ.
One side is this: I read a comment on a news article recently where the commentator stated that the last place on earth that people should look for God is in the church. I guess his opinion was that our churches have gotten so far away from what God intended that more people are becoming confused and misled by attending church than they would be otherwise.
The other side is this: I recently read a piece of writing from a person who was becoming dissatisfied with his experience at his church. He was frustrated that he didn't seem to be getting fed enough and that the sermons were oftentimes discouraging, leaving him feeling worse off than he did before he arrived. He was feeling like the pastor maybe should be offering something a little meatier---and more positive---something to make him come away with a good feeling and to start his week off on the right foot. He could see how the Sunday experience was benefiting his children and spouse but didn't think he was getting very much worthwhile from it.
After thinking the first scenario through for the last 6 weeks or so, and the second through for about 2, I have to say that I completely disagree with the first and pretty much disagree with the second.
In the first scenario, the speaker is making a blanket statement about all churches---all denominations (I'm assuming...), all situations, locations, whatever. I think this is extreme. For one thing, if the speaker does not think God can be found in the church, what sort of proper alternative would he suggest? Although our churches may not reflect God in completely the way they should, I can't think of any better place to find answers, to find fellowship, to make a start in a Christian walk, than in a church. Yes, the people in our churches are just as full of sin as the people outside our churches...that's the nature of humans, unfortunately. However, the people in the churches know the big "secret" that those outside of a relationship with God don't understand. Christians know that there's a such thing as grace, freedom, redemption, newness, wholeness, and peace in Christ. If someone wants to find a group of people who will welcome him, take him under their wing, provide answers, give direction, and ultimately lead him to the One who can fix it all---where else would this writer recommend that would be more likely to provide this than the church?
On the other hand, just what exactly is a church "supposed" to provide? Or more specifically, what should the leadership's role be in the church? Should a pastor be sensitive to those who are seeking encouragement, blessing, positivity? Of course. However, in my experience, the best pastors or teachers are those who present the facts as they are and let the chips fall where they may.
I'll go off on a tangent here for a second, but has anyone read Kay Arthur? Know what I absolutely LOVE about Kay Arthur that I've yet to find in any other author? She presents just the facts, ma'am. She lays out a Bible truth, provides some background and then leaves it up to the reader to come up with an interpretation. If you are a smart reader, you'll ask the Lord for an interpretation. If you are a lazy reader, you'll come up with your own interpretation and hear about it from the Lord until you take the time to stop and ask Him what His interpretation is! What Arthur does not do, however, is give you the Kay Arthur interpretation. I love that.
So, why the tangent? Because I believe that applies to the situation with scenario number two. What I really think is important for speaker number two to understand is that if he is not spending time with the Lord throughout the week, receiving the spiritual food that he needs to survive, then he can not expect to get much out of the service on Sunday. This is more than just ritually opening up the Bible, reading a certain amount of verses, praying an ordinary prayer, and going about the day. As growing Christians, we've got to be seeking the Lord's truths and their application for our own life. We can not expect the pastor to provide this for us. For one thing, it would be impossible for the pastor to say something to an entire congregation of people and have it be just exactly what they all needed to hear to fill the tank for the week. The exception, of course, being that the Lord set it up that way and then the person who hadn't spent the time with Him wouldn't get it anyway because they couldn't recognize His voice. If speaker number two is not feeling fulfilled at church, then he has not been honest with himself about where he stands in his relationship with the Lord, as well as why he is at church in the first place.
So, why do we go to church? Do we have to? What about all those "home churchers" out there? What about those guys who say that they can commune with God better during an afternoon at the lake then they can in any given church service?
Hebrews 10 tells us not to forsake assembling together as a body. Now I know I wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure that, back in the day, it took awhile (as in years) before there was an "established way" of having church. I bet people assembled together in homes, at the lake, in a field, in a barn, here and there and wherever. So, the church building is not so important, right? The New Testament is actually full of examples of people assembling together all over the place...think of all the places Jesus ministered...get over the building...it doesn't matter.
What matters here is the coming together of believers. How many believers? I mean, just two or three people hanging out can't really be considered an "assembling together", right? Matthew 18:20 tells us that where two or three are gathered, there's the Lord, right there with them. What more does one need for a church service than people and the Lord, right?
So here we have a couple of reasons for coming together as a group of Christians---whether it be in a church, or in the gazebo at the park. For the sake of scenario number two, let's say we're in a traditional church building. Why are we there? These two verses tell us that we are there to assemble as believers, that the Lord might come down and be in the middle of it all. Kinda like a family reunion, right? Listen speaker number two, it's for fellowship. It's a home base where we can talk about the Lord freely and worship Him corporately. Is it essential that it's done in a church building? Of course not, but it's essential that it's done.
1 Corinthians 12:27 tells us that the gifts the Lord has given us are for the body. Let me be specific: they are not for our own body. They are for the body of Christ. God gives us each abilities, talents, insights, knowledge, and more that we may use it to minister to others. What better place to use these gifts than in a setting made up of your brothers and sisters in Christ! If we come into church with the attitude that we are there to receive, then we will most assuredly come away feeling disappointed. However, if we come into each fellowship opportunity, whether it be a home study group, a men's breakfast, or a traditional church service, with the attitude of being there to bless others, we will most likely come away feeling fulfilled and refreshed.
I guess, after thinking this all through, I believe that we should attend church for the main reasons of fellowshiping with other believers and allowing God to use us to bless and encourage them. I don't believe that we have to be in an actual church building to be fellowshiping and that those "home-churchers" are in no danger of frying any time soon. As for that dude on the lake, well, we all need a little quiet time in the Lord's presence now and then---and what was Jesus, if not a dedicated fisherman?