I’ve been reading a lot about the church lately. It is part of my theology class reading. Moreover, my blogging friends seem to be talking about it a lot.
Over the years, I’ve belonged to 2 churches in Brooklyn during my childhood, 3 churches in Columbia MO, during a short year and a half in Fayetteville NC, I went to about 3-4 churches (not a good experience), 1 church during the 16 years I lived in CT (now that was a great experience), 4 churches in TN (one of which I pastored) and 0 churches in South Dakota. (There are none in SD because I’ve always just been a visitor when I do go to church there.)
That’s a total of at least 14 churches I’ve belong to on some level. That’s a lot of church!
I’ve lamented with the best of them about the state of the church. It’s pretty sad. I’ve been critical of friends who aren’t solidly involved in a church. Yet, for the last two years, as I have refused to settle down in SD, I’ve been just like them. Where I once was critical, I now understand. Sometimes it’s just hard.
In my reading yesterday, I was reminded that the salad bar approach to church is a new phenomenon. Once upon a time, your “church” was determined by where you lived. Everyone in your geographic locality was the same flavor of Christian. Most of the time, you were with the same congregation all of your life. Before the Reformation, if you were Christian, there was only one flavor of Christian.
Now, there are so many varieties that you have a hard time choosing. Sort of like when you stand at the Baskin Robbins’ counter and can’t decide what flavor you want. Maybe this day you want German Chocolate Cake but next week you want Fudge Ripple. Worse yet is when your spouse wants Orange Sherbet, you want Blueberry Ripple, your teen wants Chocolate and your preschooler needs a baby cone of plain vanilla. One of the options in this dilemma is just not go for ice cream any more.
Nevertheless, church is not ice cream. I know church gets a bad rap. It’s boring. It’s too organized. It’s out for money. It is like a country club. Believe me I can tell you horror stories too. I’ve gotten pretty beat up and banged up in church during my life. If you were to ask me where was the one place I got hurt more than any other place, it would be the church. That’s pretty sad.
I am not ready to give up on the church yet. Even though I haven’t settled in enough to be part of a congregation in SD, I won’t give up on the body of Christ. Okay, I know someone out there is saying: it’s just Jesus and me. Jesus is fine but I don’t care for the church. But if the scripture says we are all part of one body, and that we are the body of Christ, you as a thumb, or arm, or pinky pretty much can’t do anything cut off from the rest of the body.
I’m not sure I know how all this works. I heard a professor say a few weeks ago that your salvation is within the church. I thought, I know he’s not saying the church saves you. That membership in a church or denomination guarantees your salvation. No, he’s Baptist, he wouldn’t say such a thing; they’re big on personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Nevertheless, I think he had a good point. How can you really be a toe, or thumb, or arm, or pinky, or whatever in the body of Christ if you aren’t connected to the rest of the body?
There are a variety of ways to do church. You can go to a traditional service or a contemporary service. You can go to a liturgical service or one with no order at all. You can sing hymns, worship songs or rock it out with a praise band and light show. You can go to a house church or a cathedral. You can even have a type of church on the internet. I’ve preached on the internet through my fingers. We had worship, we had prayer, I preached and then I prayed for people… all while sitting in front of a monitor. Eventually we need people in the flesh. To see a smile, receive a touch, a hug, we need each other.
I think the point is not where or how, it is that you do. It is important to be in relationship with the rest of the body through worship, prayer, sharing your life, receiving Communion, and the preaching and teaching of the Word. If you saw the movie March of the Penguins, you know penguins only survived because they huddle together. The lone penguin couldn’t make it alone in that harsh environment. We are in a harsh environment as Christians. We need each other. Even the ones the upset us and irritate us. We still need them.
We need the church really means, we need each other.