For those who may not know, “nones” are those who profess to and no doubt often do love Jesus, but have had enough of church or what they see as the institutionalized form of it. If you just happen to be one, you might read on.
I’ve been around the block and then some in over forty years of being “in Christ.” And I’ve seen my share of churches. I would have rather settled down into one denomination, perhaps as a pastor or teacher, but for various reasons that didn’t pan out. And from my perspective, I’ve seen a lot of good, I would say mostly good. And if something wasn’t so good, I would bear with it as part of the experience of being church. After all, I too am part of the mix with good from God and not so good from myself on my way hopefully to maturity in Christ along with the rest of Christ’s body.
The changes I’ve made over the years have been largely circumstantial, not so much driven by doctrinal differences. If the latter were the case, I would have hardly fitted in any church. And I doubt that that is the problem with most of you. What many of you want to see is something that is cutting edge in the missional sense. You don’t want to settle into the status quo of church which seems to have little to no impact on others either in the way of salvation or in the nitty gritty of everyday life.
First of all I want to say what I’m sure most of you already know: When we receive Christ by faith, we are joined not only to him, but also to his body, the church. It is both/and. In being members of Christ, we are members of his body, the church. There are no two ways about it. We therefore belong not only to Christ, but to each other. That is a reality that is to be worked out in real life. If we are joined to Christ, then we are joined to his body so that to opt out of fellowship with his body is to at least dangerously flirt with being out of fellowship with Christ himself. And if I understand the book of Hebrews correctly, we can end up with our entire life in Christ in peril. To depart from Christ’s body doesn’t seem far removed from departing from Christ himself. In that same book we are told not to quit meeting together as is the habit of some, but to encourage one another, and all the more as we see the day of the Lord approaching.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic, Life Together, made it clear that when we project an image of church not only as an ideal, but also as what we expect, we depart from church altogether. What we’ve projected is nothing more than a fabrication which in real life sooner or later will be exposed for what it is. No fellowship will measure up since they are made up of people like you and I.
And I have learned to be suspicious of churches who think they have a leg up on everyone else. That they have something that other churches lack but need, to be the church God calls us to be. There is no doubt we can learn from each other. And there are thriving churches and sad to say, dying churches, as well. But any church which supposes that it is church in a way others are not had best beware. That is not the picture we get from the New Testament. Christ is the one who builds his church, and he builds it from the most humble material, from the broken lives of people like you and I. And God causes the church to grow into maturity in Christ, significantly through the gifts by the Spirit of leaders in the church, as well as to the gifts given to each one of its members. Those things will be in place in any true church, even if in rudimentary form.
All that said, yes, we need to challenge the church to live up to its calling in terms of both its sacramental and common life in Christ. And as an outpost of God’s kingdom both invading the world as well as resident in it. No doubt the church often fails and is called on the carpet by Christ himself even as we see from five of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. But to be faithful to Christ, we must be present not only to him, but also to his body, the church. Whatever our shortcomings are. We together are to grow up in Christ doing so as one body. There is no spiritual maturity in Christ according to the New Testament apart from that.