A couple of posts ago I wrote about the tendency to confuse the church organization, which often needs constant cheerleading to keep it going, with The Church That Is, that just is. In some respects, we’ve all been trained this way, although perhaps not as much as in times past.
I grew up in a small town with several churches. We had many of the standards: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic, Evangelical Covenant, and occasionally one or 2 more. On Tuesdays, we’d all take an hour off from public school to go to our respective churches for religious instruction. Not much was ever discussed between us about our respective churches, and it was just understood that our church affiliation made us different from the other kids. There were a couple who didn’t go anywhere, and we all felt somewhat sorry for them – but no one ever considered asking them to come along. It was actually unthinkable to invite someone to change churches – you just were who you were.
Things are obviously much different now, although some of the more traditional churches try to keep their flocks from straying out of their pens. It’s not unusual for people to change churches, often spending a couple of years at one place, then moving to another. However, even with this more tenuous connection to a congregation or denomination, there still tends to be an identity that develops based on where you attend at the moment. You’re friends with this group of people, then move on to another group, often abandoning old relationships (we consider it “drifting apart” rather than abandonment) in favor of the new. It’s a lot like serial monogamy.
We often wouldn’t consider attending a home group or Bible study that isn’t associated with our current church, even though that group may be (or have been) our close friends. There are those of us who do, and we are looked at with suspicion by pastors and leaders (and the more “committed” members of the church) who can’t understand why we won’t abandon our connections outside of the church.
Commitment still means 100% to the organization in many places. It doesn’t matter that we may be involved in tremendous para-church (I hate that term) organizations and doing the work of the Kingdom; if it’s not a part of the “program” it doesn’t spell commitment.
There’s something wrong. With these attitudes, we become blind to The Church That Is. We meet other people who are Christians, and don’t develop Kingdom relationships with them, because we fail to recognize the Kingdom.
“Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” said Jesus. I suspect that we often miss out on the presence of Jesus in our daily lives, because we have been blinded to the reality of the Kingdom. What does it mean to “gather in my name?” I wonder if it is as simple as recognizing each other as fellow disciples, by failing to see the Kingdom in each other, and failing to recognize that The Church That Is exists wherever we are.
Why can’t the Church exist where two Christians at work meet at break to just see how each other is doing? Why can’t the Church exist at the gym during a game of racquetball? If we acknowledge the we are all the temple of the Holy Spirit and the reality of the Church exists in the connection of these Earthly temples, then the real presence of Jesus and the real presence of The Church That Is exists at that moment, at that place. There’s no need for singing or liturgy or a sermon… all that is needed is our presence.
The organizations, the buildings, and all of that is not necessarily wrong (it obviously depends on the organization…); the reality is that these are para-church organizations, set up merely to facilitate meetings and programs. Some are good, some are not so good – but, they are only tools of the real Church. We can’t confuse them with The Church itself.
The Church That Is, is. It’s as simple as that.