Friday, September 5, 2014

Don't Shoot Your Eye Out (Do I Really Have To Go To Church?)

There's a popular meme going around lately.

I get it. I understand the idea. Yes, totally true that the relationship with God, not the religion of church attendance and rule abiding, is the only thing worth pursuing, spiritually speaking. Plus, I love boats.

But not quite.

Because the dangerous part of this meme's philosophy is the popular statement made these days by so many--I don't have to go to church. I can worship God anywhere.

Anywhere. In the woods. In my fishing boat. With my family. Staring at the sunrise in the Smokies. In bed. (And let's be honest. That's where people are most often on Sunday morning. They are not out in Yosemite lifting their hands to the mountains in praise. They are snoring. True story.)

The idea sounds good. Simple. Truthful. Uber-spiritual, right? Definitely appealing, some days. But is it true? And do we? Do we worship God in those places? Or do we just believe that we do? Is it necessary to be in church to worship God? Or to be there at all?

This is the second question in a series on the church. I hope you'll join the discussion.

Do I need to go to church? And the common follow up statement—The church has hurt me. I don't need it anymore. True?

The first part of this response is—yes. True. The church probably has hurt you. And I'm sorry.

The church does need to repent. And change.  [tweet this].

Yes, sometimes we have acted like you're less than worthy if you were not in a pew (or a chair) every week. We have looked at you like one of those HGTV projects that needs a lot of work. We have been friendly but not loving, inviting but not welcoming, a group but not a community.

We have fought over minutia and neglected to fight for what mattered. We have condescended to younger generations and accused them of compromise when all they've really done is made us uncomfortable.

We have gossiped, and backstabbed, and questioned your parenting, theology, and loyalty. Yes, the church is guilty of all this, at one time or another. And we should repent.

Seriously. I love Hermey. But theologically speaking . . . 
But that doesn't make it OK to go all Hermey and Rudolph on us. You're not romantic misfits if you strike out on your own because the church was mean. I think, in other arenas, that's called pouting. If there's a place on earth that's not full of sinners who need to repent, I have not found it, and God never mentions it past the Garden of Eden. If I did find it, I'd be there, and, well, there goes the neighborhood.

I know about hurt. I left my last pastoral position when I finally felt too emotionally abused to keep trying. As I work now in a church plant, it seems that eighty percent of the people who come through our doors have felt that hurt in some way. The stories are frighteningly similar. I do not trivialize it; there is some serious pain out there caused by people who earnestly believe they are following Jesus.

Pain teaches us something

But maybe, just maybe, God wants to use that pain. Maybe he wants to use it specifically to make his church a better place. Could it be that he truly wishes to use you, and your hurt, to make sure that the next person who comes through the doors does not end up with that ache? Could he be training you to teach his people about empathy and wholeness? Could he want you to bless His church, not vice versa?

And is it possible that, when you give up and run from the hurt, you're running from the chance to make it better for everyone? Is this, maybe, the grown up version of taking your toys and going home from the playground? Yes, even when the playground ended up being more of a battleground that left you nearly fatally wounded. Are we really supposed to get up and go back there?

Maybe not exactly the same “there” in terms of street address. (Although that's also very possible.) But the church? Yes. Because it's about more than us.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” . . . If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12.12-27).

A body cannot exist without all of its parts. It can't function properly. It will always be doomed to go around without a heart, or courage, or a brain (yes, we've all seen that, haven't we?) so long as those whom God joined to it are MIA. It will continue to blunder into walls and fail to hear the cries of those outside those walls. Because the eyes and ears, often the most sensitive parts of the body, are gone.

Paul explains that, if we have the Holy Spirit as our mark of identity, we are part of the body. Like it or not. That church we complain about? It is us. We are it. We cannot disassociate ourselves from it any more than we can take out our own eye and declare we have no need for it, we can see just fine without it, thank you very much. Our eternal identity is spoken by God as part of that body.  [tweet this].

We are poking ourselves in our own eye. And that's just plain dumb.

If you've been hurt, I'm sorry. Really, really sorry. I know you'd rather do just about anything than open yourself up to that again. But it's what God designed when he called us a body. He had in mind a people who walked together, toward the same place, with the same goal. He did not have a picture of a bunch of individual eyes, noses, and kneecaps lying around telling one another, “Hey, I'm OK. I'm worshiping God over here. Going my own way. But it's all good.”

He thought of a community of people who were willing to risk hurt. Again and again. Not because anyone deserves it or because we will benefit from it. Because Jesus did it. Does it. For us. And he asks us to be his image here until he comes. 

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