Thursday, April 08, 2010

Christendom’s Challenge

I am becoming increasingly convinced that Christendom's main problem is our penchant to separate church from life. We have allowed to develop a church separate from life and this is not the idea given in Scripture. The church, rightly understood is not institutional in Scripture but refers to the community of believers – who live lives characterized by the Spirit. Christians assemble for encouragement and worship, but the community is understood to exist at all times. As a result we have created rules for church life that do not reflect or only vaguely reflect the actual lives of church members.

I recently had a hallway conversation in which those involved all grew up in congregations that didn't observe Easter, but in which everyone in the pews did observe it. We all received new clothes, the women wore new hats, and church on Easter morning looked like a fashion show. While "the church" couldn't observe Easter – everyone in church did.

This duality between the church and those that make it up has resulted in any number of odd behaviors, especially but not exclusively in my denomination. We have sometimes vocal "experts in the law" concerning what is correct behavior in and for the church. Churches can't contribute to orphanages, but everyone in the church can send their money to an orphanage if they choose to do so. We can all individually support a missionary, but the church's money can't be used for that. All of us are going to observe Christmas, but we can't have poinsettias on the church's windows because "the church doesn't observe Christmas."

But it isn't just "low church" groups that suffer from this malady. High churches with their priest class who must be available to administer the sacraments suffer from the same problem. A simple communal meal demonstrating community and the faithfulness of God has grown into a highly scripted rite with special precautions for flakes of cracker and drips of wine.

The Roman Catholic Church has in recent years debated the appropriate style of "church music" even though their members listen to and better connect with various kinds of music. In my fellowship we worry about singing a capella in church and then drive home with the local Christian pop station on the radio.

Another ripe issue for both the Roman Catholic and my group of believers is "women's roles." We quickly acknowledge that women are indispensable with various skills at home, but we limit their practice of those skills "in church."

It is clear that we have missed the point. God wants a community, an economy rather than a group of club members who know the correct handshake, meet in a special place. and practice specifically church rites. Being saved and living the life of God is intended to be the primary result of our being in fellowship with God. The things we do when we are together are to be directly outgrowths of that community life, not completely divorced from it.

Until Christendom figures this out, we will continue to strain gnats and swallow camels, continue to tithe mint and cumin, and miss the weightier parts of being God people. This is our problem and is the single greatest failure of congregational and denominational leaders. We simply cannot allow our members or our church rules to continue to create artificial separations between church and life; between us and God.

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