In my last post, page I wrote about how I overcame depression with the help of my church community. Following Christ is hard- picking up your cross daily, try being hated by the world- and it is never a road we see people walking alone in the Gospels and in the account of the early Church in Acts. We need faith communities to walk along side us, and this is why I truly believe in the Church. But, sadly, I need to qualify my statement by defining what the Church is.
Let’s start with what the Church is not.
The Church is not a Sunday morning service (although Church can and does happen on Sunday mornings).
The Church is not political or conservative.
The Church does not need to “take back” America.
The Church is not a building.
The Church is not the Catholic church (although the Catholic church is a part of the Church).
The Church is not judgmental.
It is not hateful.
It is not fake.
It is not shallow.
This is the Church:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. -Acts 2:42-47
The Church is the fellowship of believers, people who are completely committed to each other because they are utterly devoted to Christ.
The Church is where people experience the power of the Holy Spirit, resulting in signs and wonders, because when people have the faith to call heaven down to earth, heaven comes down.
The Church is authentic and vulnerable sacrificial living.
The Church is everyday commitment and everyday community- this includes Sunday morning services, but certainly does not end there.
The Church is needs being met– the hungry fed, the sick healed, the lonely comforted, the outcasts accepted, those in bondage set free.
The Church is where God’s precious and holy name is praised. Where His favor shines.
The Church is filled with the presence of God, which is so magnetic, so irresistible that people cannot help but be attracted to it. And so the Church flourishes.
I do see some good things happening in the American Church- there are really wonderful, Jesus-centered movements gaining momentum, and I am lucky enough to be part of one of them, part of a community where everyone knows and lives by Acts 2:42. However, on a whole, there are a lot of things that need to change.
The Western, American church is going to continue to fail as long as it continues being a place you go on Sunday mornings, sit down, listen to someone say things that don’t reflect the words of Christ, present a happy face, and leave without it having any impact on the rest of your week. Until we reform the way we think about Church, we can’t expect a reformation of the Church.
I just finished reading Bonhoeffer, a biography about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I cannot recommend highly enough (I’ve written more about it on my Resources page). Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian during the Third Reich and was eventually killed by the Nazis. During Hitler’s rise to power, Hitler and his closest officers took over the German Church and convinced most German Pastors to accept the Aryan paragraph, which said that no Jews were allowed to be members or pastors of the German Christian Church. The German Christian Church was all too happy to accept Hitler, his politics, and his opinions of the Jews. Bonhoeffer was against Hitler from the beginning and worked tirelessly to convince German pastors of the evils of anti-Jewish thinking and the dangers of a nationalistic and politicized church. Bonhoeffer and others started the Confessing Church, which they considered the only German Church, the true German Church. Bonhoeffer believed in the power of the Church and dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel.
He said “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others….not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others” (Letters and Papers from Prison).
Here is a man who had every reason to be disillusioned by the Church- the German church had become a Nazified system that rejected the entire Old Testament (because it was “Jewish propaganda”), replaced words such as “peace” and “meek” with more “manly” ones, re-wrote entire sections of the New Testament, including the Sermon on the Mount, and Hitler himself called Jesus “our great Aryan hero.”
And yet, Bonhoeffer dedicated his life to the Church- he discipled people, preached and taught people the word of God, and even started and ran his own seminary after the Nazi party had taken over the schools of theology in Germany.
Bonhoeffer called for a radically different Church, without forsaking the Church, the importance of the fellowship of believers, for one minute. I wonder if we can do the same.