When I write about the church I do so as both part of the church and apart from the church.
The church is a living organism and as such it is a complex thing, difficult to generalize because it is made up of almost 2 billion individuals representing various and myriad facets and attributes.
It doesn’t help that these differing aspects of the church often doubt that their brothers and sisters are even part of the same body and often publicly call one another out.
That being said there is a place for introspection and criticism because the church is an important part of the world.
When I write about the church I am writing about the western church as I see it and have been a part of it. I am not writing about the South American church, the African or Asian church…these are not part of my experience.
I do think that writing about the western church can affect the other parts of the global organization – if only to act as a warning to avoid some of our pitfalls.
Even then as I may write critically I cannot hope to capture the intricacies. There are individuals who in no way reflect the church that I see – whole congregations and communities likely. Still the church that the world sees is that Christ that the world sees and so the visible and loud parts of the church need critiquing.
Unsurprisingly the church, being made up of people, often acts like people in various circumstances. The church can be defensive and immature, the church can be violent, the church can advocate for evil…because its members do…regardless of its headship.
In the face of persecution, in the face of irrelevance, in the face death – the church is afraid and has turned to fight. The very Christ of the world, as it is being led to the cross, would rather turn and kill its enemies than trust in the resurrection – this is the church today.
I wrote the above paragraph as a Facebook post the other day mostly to remind myself to write about this subject.
The church is constantly walking a tightrope between the character of the ones who make it up and the character of the one whom the church is supposed to reflect, that one being Christ.
On the one hand you have the church that is confronted by hostility from all sides – humanism, secularism, other faiths, atheism and from within. In response to this threat the church has many possible responses that fall into one of two camps – either the human response, which is to defend and attack back in order to assure survival, or the response of Christ.
There are churches in the United States that advocate for arming pastors in the face of violence. There are churches today that advocate to keep the stranger out of our land. There are churches today that struggle to give sacrificially.
When confronted by the poor the church as an institution and its leaders will conveniently remind the congregation’s individuals that “you are the church and you must give sacrificially” all the while bringing in enormous sums of tithes to shore up salaries, benefits, buildings, furniture, technology, musical instruments and programs. I have been party to this. I have seen this. I have done this.
Take a look at your church’s budget – I would shocked if more than 10 percent of its funds have been dedicated purely to the poor.
Our churches are institutions accumulating wealth out of a belief that the institution can do more in the world as a result of infrastructure and investment – and this feels right. Always remember our churches are reflections of us…they are supposed to be reflections of Christ but they will be only inasmuch as we are.
There is a temptation at this point to blame pastors for the state of things but the reality is your pastors are merely members of the church, the same as you.
When we look to Christ we encounter the Son of Man who has no place to lay his head and we wonder why God’s style of ministry was so different from our own? Is it a cultural difference? Maybe – although even today no modern organization can match the structure and organization of Rome and the Roman Empire. Christ had examples of structured and well-funded evangelism but still he chose the path of a homeless, poor, beggar. It makes us wonder perhaps about our own strategies.
Then there is the enemy.
There are some who clearly feel the church should pick up the crusader sword against the “infidel” at our doors; that we need to act with God-ordained violence and make war upon our enemies – be they individuals, groups or whole cultures.
If we believe that Christ is the ultimate expression of God on Earth than there is no use appealing to Old Testament texts that might make us feel better about advocating violence against our enemies etc.
We look only to his example as expressed in the New Testament and we see the response to the perceived or real enemy in his parables and in his own responses. We look to the parable of the Good Samaritan and we cannot misunderstand what our response is supposed to be. We look to Christ’s own responses and ultimately to the cross and we cannot mistake what our own should be no matter how hard we try.
There is Christ in the Garden at Gethsemene praying and agonizing over his upcoming arrest and execution. There is Christ very aware of the enemy at the door…begging for God to let it pass. There is Christ, whom we believe to be the embodiment of God, resisting the urge to remove the threat.
Christ who is arrested. Christ who stays his follower’s own urge to violent defense. Christ who is whipped, beaten and ultimately nailed to a cross. This Christ who could, at any moment, step off the cross and respond in kind. Instead this Christ stays put to the point where he lifts up his voice in agonizing wails screaming his own doubts that are like our own – “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?”
Where are you? Are you even there?
Christ, our self-same God, doubting even his own existence in a case of modern existential angst that we can all identify with still resists the temptation to reach for the power he has, by faith that even at the most darkest of hours, a darkness unto even death – somehow God knows what is best and will work toward this – against every fiber of human instinct.
Why? There is resurrection.
The church has forgotten about the resurrection and what it means. We have forgotten about this most important aspect of our faith which the apostle Paul spoke so clearly of in 1 Corinthians 15:14 when he said “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
This is where we find ourselves. We find ourselves at a place where our preaching is useless and so is our faith because, by our thoughts, our words and our actions it is clear that we believe Christ has not been raised. Even if we act this way we make it so and the power of the resurrection vanishes.
Our actions and words betray our deepest innermost insecurity – that Christ was never raised and that God is not really there. As long as we live in this place we will be the violent, selfish, faithless and fearful beings that we are…because the resurrection is lost to us.
The resurrection is still and always there at the centre of our history to be recaptured should we only have faith. But we must stay on the cross in the face of any perceived enemy. We must be willing to let our church die even, if we are to confess and witness a faith that believes in the promise of resurrection – it is the only way; it is the hardest of possible ways because we must go willingly to the cross – whoever leads us there.