Friday, August 1, 2014

a colorful group

What is the church? What did it start out to be? Why does the Bible use a family metaphor for the church? How did it function, ideally? Or practically?

I've wanted to do some research and writing on the church for some time. Those are just some of the questions I'd like to talk about and examine. This isn't simply an academic pursuit. Not nearly. It's a practical, important discussion for an endangered institution. What were we meant to be, and what are we destined to become? Plus—what is our role in that destiny?

Then there are the questions people ask us when we talk about church. Can't I worship on my own? Am I supposed to stay in one church? What reasons would I have to change churches? What if I don't agree with everything? Why should I have to be accountable to someone?

I would love for you to jump in and ask your questions and offer ideas. Please share in the comments below.

So to start the discussion, I'm going to begin at . . . the end. Partly because I think that's a very good place to begin. Partly because that's what I'm preaching on this weekend, and there's only so much time in a week to work. But the end—the new heaven and the new earth, where all is restored to what God intended—what better place to begin a discussion on what he intended all along for us as a community?

We had perfect relationships in the beginning, in the garden. It didn't take long for us to screw that up. From the first, “She made me do it!” humans have been turning on one another. Arguing. Doubting. Misunderstanding, distrusting. Certain we're at least better or smarter than our neighbor. People fear one another, and it comes out in every Facebook rant or political statement we see.

People in the church bring that fear with them, and we must learn to disarm it so we can conform to what God intended for his people all along—relationships without fear. If we can manage that in the church—I imagine the world would stop and take a look.

So let's look at what God says those relationships will look like in the end.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, 'Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!' (Revelation 7.9-10 )

The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city.” (Revelation 21.24-26)

The first thing I notice about the new church is that all the color in heaven won't be from the gemstones and gold. All the nations will be there, with all their tongues, customs, and colors. There will be no fear there—no need to close gates against anyone ever again. People of all kinds will live in unity without looking askance at one another. Ever.

It's exciting—but it should also cause us to look deep into our hearts. Are we OK with that? Are we OK with whoever is there? Who will be standing next to you in the new heaven and new earth? Who will be part of your church? Are they welcome next to you or in your church now? If not, we're not portraying the church as God intends for it to be.

You may be standing next to a democrat. Or a republican. A former prisoner. Maybe even a presbyterian. An illegal immigrant. A person who struggled with same-sex attraction all his life. Anyone who repented and surrendered to Jesus. Anyone. Whether we like it or not. And they will have to stand next to you and me.

In this picture of the new heaven and earth, there is no room for hatred, or superiority, or self-righteousness. We will not have a baptist mansion. (Several baptist mansions, if all the kinds of baptists I see in the phone book will want their own!) There is no white suburban section. No gated communities. We will have to spend eternity with “those people.”

So we should be asking now, before then--who are those people to us? Am I harboring anger in my heart against groups of people? Whom do I label? This isn't an academic question for me. I struggle now with brothers and sisters who preach things I find unloving or oppressive. I have to deal with that. I have to come out on other side of that struggle with love. Because “those people” are my people and are part of the church.

Whom is it hardest for you to love? Start there. Start tearing at those walls. The walls aren't there in heaven. The church is one. The church now ought to be practicing that. Let's give it a try and see who notices.

Zechariah 2.11 “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.”

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