Saturday, June 12, 2010

Not places to get ... but places to serve

A couple of responses this morning for those disillusioned with the institutional Church, and especially for those inclined to leave.

First, reviewing Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, Trevin Wax finds much to like including what Spencer writes about the failings of the local church, but Wax also feels that there is a contradiction in Spencer's indication that leaving the local church is, for many, a healthy thing:
...Michael rightly teaches that the gospel is for people who recognize they are messed up, rebellious, sinful, broken and dysfunctional. Christianity is for the losers, for the people who recognize their need for salvation outside of themselves. So far so good.

But let’s engage in a bit of logic. If churches are organized groups of these messed up, broken, dysfunctional people, why in the world would we expect the church to always live up to some unattainably high ideal? I’m not saying we shouldn’t shoot high. I’m not saying we should be satisfied with Christless churches. But surely Michael should give groups of broken people (churches) the same patience he gives individual broken people.

So in the end, I want to say, “Michael, you’re right about individual Christians. We’re broken, wounded, sinful and selfish. So why can’t you see that churches are going to be that way too? Please don’t encourage broken people to leave churches that are broken! Just as we need Jesus in us as individuals to slowly remake us into his image, we need Jesus-filled people in churches if there is any hope for the church to reflect the glory of Christ to the world.”

If Christ remains committed to us – as broken and messed up as we are – why would we not remain committed to his followers? Why would we bolt out the door when our church experience becomes a hassle? What looks more like Jesus – to hit the road? Or to stay with a congregation through thick and thin, through good and bad? ....

Though no local church is perfect, and the universal Church often looks more like a cheating spouse than a faithful bride, we are to identify myself with this bungling bunch of believers. The church is home. The church is God’s beloved. The church has been bought with precious blood. Though the presence of the Kingdom is not as intensely felt in the church as I would like, it is the sign of the Kingdom in this age, faults and all. And if Jesus is content to give his life for an unruly Church, we should seek satisfaction in serving his church – warts and all. [more]
If the local church can be frustrating, even more people increasingly feel little connection with denominations. Ed Stetzer, in an article at Christianity Today, "Life in Those Old Bones," considers denominations, non-denominationalism, what denominations have to offer, and concludes:
To paraphrase Churchill's comments about democracy: Denominations are the worst way to cooperate—except for all the others. They are riddled with weak, ineffective, and arrogant leadership, prone to navel-gazing, and often move more slowly than they should. But these aspects are products of human fallibility and sin. Every time churches work together, ego, failure, and inefficiency will arise. And when they don't work together, ego, failure, and inefficiency will arise. People, not denominations, are the source.

Denominations at their best are not places to get something but places to give and to serve. Our gifts, passions, and experience have greater influence through a worldwide denominational network. Through a denomination, we can provide resources to people we will never meet, reach places we will never go, and preach the gospel to lost souls who are beyond our personal reach. We can find what we need and give as much as we want—because the key to cooperation is to both give and receive.

A healthy denomination ultimately gives us strength. It's a home, not a prison. It allows us to share specific theological convictions, practice expressions of ministry relevant to our communities, and serve a common mission in the one thing that brings true unity: the gospel. [more]
Mere Churchianity: A Friendly Critique : Kingdom People, Life in Those Old Bones | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction