Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday's Meditation: A Big Question that Matters Every Day

Sometimes the big questions intersect with our everyday life. My opinions about regarding large “theological” questions trickle all the way down to my ability to follow Jesus day-by-day. For example, my view of the scripture will determine how much authority it has in my life. My understanding of God’s purpose for marriage will find it’s way into my sexual thoughts and behavior. Or, for example, my view of the church will influence my everyday life as a follower of Jesus.

Here’s the challenge: not everyone thinks the answers to big questions matter in their ability to follow Jesus. We think they are simply matters of opinion, or even preference. Which answers to big questions matter to us on a personal level? What if big questions help--or hinder--our lives as students of Jesus?

One current question in North America has to do with the importance of the church. Church life in America has become a symbol of irrelevance, hypocrisy, or even considered harmful in the life of a disciple. Why not simply head out to Starbucks or a pub with my believing friends and call that “church?” Who needs the hassle of small-minded people or the drama of church as a someone’s private kingdom? I see the point of these questions. The church in the U.S. is desperately ill. So why not turn off the life support system?

My only problem is God. He seems to think the church is important. Here’s a Monday meditation: just try reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians without considering the place of the church in God’s order of things. The church is mentioned nine times in three separate contexts during this short letter. And the Spirit-inspired text says some outrageous things about the church:
  • The church is the “fulness of God” (1: 22-23). Really?
  • God wants to speak to the cosmos, using the church as the example of his “manifold wisdom” (3: 10-11). No way!
  • God actually thinks marriage is an everyday picture of Jesus and the Church (5: 22-33)
So before we all spend our tithe on lattes and pints with our best friends and call it “church” perhaps we could consider the big question of what God has in mind for the church and for us as followers of Jesus. (And check back Thursday as we continue this discussion.)

17 comments:

  1. I have been in, been apart, been around, all kinds of churches. You will never find a perfect one. At least not in this life. Actually we owe a lot of the New Testament to the fact that there were so many "church" problems in the first century. So....even they had their problems. The thing I've been chewing on lately is the question, "what was Paul's concept of what the meaning of the word church?"
    from Pat Myles

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  2. While we hear a lot about the drawbacks of attending a church and the problems we encounter, there are plenty of problems with not attending a church. In fact, the years when we could not find a church near us were quite difficult. So while I have many reservations about attending church, I am also concerned about the drawbacks of not joining with a group of believers on a regular basis.

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  3. Hi guys, (plus mysterious Chinese friend):

    Pat: your question is one well worth chewing on! I certainly did not mean this post as a defense of the church as it is--literally, the Lord knows--we have serious problems! I suspect there is a huge range of what the church can be. On Thursday I'm going to attempt (!) to comment on what are the minimum basics of what it takes to be church (from the perspective of an individual follower of Jesus). Your suggestions are welcome.

    Ed: You are so right--how come no one every talks about the "problems with *not* attending a church"? I'd love to read your take on that.

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  4. A series of random responses:

    Why the insistence that going to a building is going to church? It might not be. It maybe the club grounds for a club of Christians, maybe even led by a pastoral figure or two or three. It maybe more, not necessarily. Same for the "Starbucks." It could be just a club. But it might be a church.

    Why do you even mention collecting tithes at the Starbucks? (i.e. - examine yourself; frankly - what if they were?) What if they were? I think it highly important for a pastor in the Vineyard to consider this, given the importance the VY places on this and the lack of any common understanding of why this is so that is put to writing. I'm not bringing up "tithing" so much as institutional inertia, and whether it is so demonstrable that it is my personal responsibility to keep the wheel turning if the same wheel will happily run over me if I actually do something like have a need or a question; whether because of inertia or what-not.

    **The institutional structures are downstream and a shadow of people's lives with God; not the other way around (people's lives with God are not the shadow of an institution).** - So it's fine to have an institution. But cart and horse are separate phenomena.

    People that actually pray and study with and for me are a help - Can I find that at the building? Not always. Rarely. At the Starbucks? Not always. But more often. People who know me and are invested in me - these people can reprove me; and they can expect to be listened to because they are actually known to me to be invested in my life.

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  5. Hi Charles:

    Thanks for your response. I think you raise reasonable questions. I have no love for buildings per se, and I think you could make a reasonable argument that building are part of the problem: mortgages, "overhead" costs, mistaking a "holy place" for the presence of God. Jesus certainly challenged the mis-placed emphasis on the Temple--the one great building of the Old Testament. Meanwhile, Jacob encountered the "House of God" outdoors, while he slept, using a rock for a pillow!

    When I read the post again I agree that even the mention of the word tithe could (and did) confuse the issue. This post isn't about tithing, nor would I have any problem with passing the hat in a public place. For my money [;-)] I'm not sure I'm willing to chalk tithing up to Institutional inertia (good phrase, and a true phenomenon), but this post is about an invitation to meditate on the interplay between God's high view of the church and the all too-easy re-action of North Americans to hold a low view of the church.

    I like the cart and horse image because it is utilitarian, and without question God has a purpose in mind for His church. I *do* state that the U.S. church is desperately sick, so I agree that "rarely," as you say, is there effective prayer and assistance and help in the status quo of church and meeting.

    It's your final line that contains real power: "People who know me and are invested in me - these people can reprove me; and they can expect to be listened to because they are actually known to me to be invested in my life." I agree! Your statement should lead us to ask, why can't the church fulfill that function? I think the church *should* fulfill that function. But those who bail on the church do so at their peril, because first, God has a purpose in mind for his church, and second, we are the lesser if we in fact give up on God's institution.

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  6. My wife and I have been on a journey to figure out what it means to BE the church instead of just GOING to one. I think we had expected those verses in Ephesians, as well as in other places, as being fulfilled when we showed up to the meetings on a regular basis and got involved DOING things. Truth is, I doubt that Paul would consider some of what he'd experience in our programed environments as church at all, no matter what we call it.

    I don't say this as an indictment on those who choose to express their church life in an institutional framework; what I am suggesting though, is that there often can be more.

    Until Church is something that we are, instead of a place that we go, those verses in Ephesians don't really make any sense.

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  7. Spot-on, Chad, and I commend you and your bride for determining to make the transition. Your first line is a line worth repeating. And of course St. Paul would turn away from so much of 21st Century American church activity--it is (sorry) worse than useless, it is a deceptive substitute.

    But critiquing the church is easy--getting individuals to connect their church experiences (good and bad) to their own personal life as a disciple of Jesus--well then, that's a challenge.

    I'm a fool, but I'm going to attempt that very thing in Thursday long-form post. I suspect everyone will be bored with it all by then.

    Peace!

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  8. Excuse me, Shepherd, but with respect, I think you are maybe ducking a bit. Or I may be overanalyzing the text... Do you or do you not think the crew at Starbucks is the "church" - ? Enquiring minds want to know.

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  9. I'm not bored at all, Ray (nor are you a fool)! I look forward to the things you share.

    And you are right, critiquing the church, without the goal of re-centering, is about as useless as the forms that aren't working.

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  10. HI Charles:

    I probably am ducking a bit. I'm honestly open to the possibility. It would come down to intentionality, heart, and structure. If it's a hypothetical group, sure, it's possible to do it. If we're talking about a real group of people, all I could say is I'm not God, and I don't know people's hearts. To be completely honest, I would have to say I would be skeptical upon first hearing--but those brothers and sisters have nothing to prove to me! Peace!

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  11. With such respect as you are due, Sir, I think you are [ducking]. I only bid you to think on the possibility.

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  12. My dearest brothers & sisters,
    Enjoying all your perspectives. They help me see other angles about the church. The church has been around for over 2000 years so God has a wonderful plan for it!
    When we gather with Spirit-filled believers I get recharged! And when the Spirit is allowed to flow the gifts manifest. Also love the fellowship. We really believe that as we grow the problems will be fixed. "The Bride made herself ready" U R LOVED

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  13. one of the things i really like about this blog, besides Ray's apt way of saying things, is the comments that follow: they're well thought out and worth reading a couple of times.

    I ran across this comment the other day by Andy Cominsky. Concerning the church: "Our definition and expectations of love will become refined in the process [of integrating into the local church]. What becomes clear is that love for one another issues out of the presence of the One who is love. Unlike other settings where individuals seek to get their needs met, the church is not need-centered. It is Christ-centered. Focused on Him. He releases the grace needed for us to love one another out of a greater, cleaner, truer power."

    peace

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  14. HI Charles:

    I probably am ducking a bit. I'm honestly open to the possibility. It would come down to intentionality, heart, and structure. If it's a hypothetical group, sure, it's possible to do it. If we're talking about a real group of people, all I could say is I'm not God, and I don't know people's hearts. To be completely honest, I would have to say I would be skeptical upon first hearing--but those brothers and sisters have nothing to prove to me! Peace!

    ReplyDelete
  15. My wife and I have been on a journey to figure out what it means to BE the church instead of just GOING to one. I think we had expected those verses in Ephesians, as well as in other places, as being fulfilled when we showed up to the meetings on a regular basis and got involved DOING things. Truth is, I doubt that Paul would consider some of what he'd experience in our programed environments as church at all, no matter what we call it.

    I don't say this as an indictment on those who choose to express their church life in an institutional framework; what I am suggesting though, is that there often can be more.

    Until Church is something that we are, instead of a place that we go, those verses in Ephesians don't really make any sense.

    ReplyDelete
  16. A series of random responses:

    Why the insistence that going to a building is going to church? It might not be. It maybe the club grounds for a club of Christians, maybe even led by a pastoral figure or two or three. It maybe more, not necessarily. Same for the "Starbucks." It could be just a club. But it might be a church.

    Why do you even mention collecting tithes at the Starbucks? (i.e. - examine yourself; frankly - what if they were?) What if they were? I think it highly important for a pastor in the Vineyard to consider this, given the importance the VY places on this and the lack of any common understanding of why this is so that is put to writing. I'm not bringing up "tithing" so much as institutional inertia, and whether it is so demonstrable that it is my personal responsibility to keep the wheel turning if the same wheel will happily run over me if I actually do something like have a need or a question; whether because of inertia or what-not.

    **The institutional structures are downstream and a shadow of people's lives with God; not the other way around (people's lives with God are not the shadow of an institution).** - So it's fine to have an institution. But cart and horse are separate phenomena.

    People that actually pray and study with and for me are a help - Can I find that at the building? Not always. Rarely. At the Starbucks? Not always. But more often. People who know me and are invested in me - these people can reprove me; and they can expect to be listened to because they are actually known to me to be invested in my life.

    ReplyDelete