I believe in the Holy universal church.
“I live a much more Christian lifestyle than those supposed Christians who meet at that church down the road.”
This sentence has been rolling around in my brain all weekend. I can’t seem to shake it. It was the beginning of a listening session that I was able to be on the receiving end of. The hurting woman told me about the horrible bitterness she had encountered at the church she was talking about (luckily it wasn’t the church I am pastoring), she told me that she didn’t have much respect for Christians, or for church politicking (me either). She rounded off by telling me that she would never understand why people would waste the time going to church. And finally she looked at me and asked what I was doing in New Zealand. I kind of chuckled and told her I had come over for work, and I half hoped she wouldn’t ask what sort of work I was doing.
She did ask, and I then got to tell her about how I was so serious about being a Christian I had become a professional one. Just kidding. But really I told her that I was working at a church in the area. I told her that we believe that things like shame and guilt and hatred and pain don’t have to stick with you for your whole life and that we believe there is healing from that. But at this point in the conversation I could have told her she had won the lottery and she wouldn’t have heard me. She had checked out of the conversation.
So I find myself wondering about church today as I preached the sermon, and as we prayed the prayers, and as I listened to my wife lead us in singing on her ukulele, and as we recited the creeds, and as our small congregation gathered for tea and bickies afterward.
It is of course trendy right now to say that the church is not the building, but rather it is the people inside who make up the church. I can’t help but wonder if this sentence has lost its meaning to many people. What does it mean to be the church anyway? What does the church do? Why the church? The church has always been, and I believe always will be known for her habitus; our embodied disposition. Those things that we do. When we love our God and our neighbor in actuality it is love that we become known for. Maybe try giving a listening ear or a hug if it is welcome. However if we simply meet together as a social club that is sometimes full of bitterness and church politics each week then chances are good we will become known for that disposition. If we gather and talk about all the things that Christians don’t do, then we will become known for that. If we gather and don’t talk, or don’t listen, or don’t celebrate, then I think you get the idea.
Maybe you’ve asked the same: “Why church?” It is a legitimate question. One that doesn’t always have an easy answer but I think novelist Flannery O’Connor speaks to it,
“I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed”
Sometimes, when a person in my congregation will come to me and tell me they are frustrated and tired and about ready to give up on God, I won’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say a lot of the time, and I don’t know why frustrating, and horrible and hurtful things happen. I don’t know the answers to these things, but I do know how to hug, and I try my best to listen, and I try to be the body of Christ.
Maybe you’ve decided that you don’t need the church, and maybe you’re right. But I think its only because the church you’ve encountered isn’t the church that God has envisioned for God’s people.
Maybe you are hurting today, and frustrated, and ready to give up. If this is you, please know you’re not alone. Please let me (or someone near you) listen to you and hurt with you and be the body of Christ.