Last Sunday morning I was sitting in church contemplating how we often spin our wheels trying to achieve something that we already have, when I realized that a prime example was presenting itself in the sermon. The pastor was teaching on community, which has been a common topic in the Western evangelical church. As I’ve said before, I think one of the reasons community needs to be talked about so much, is because the Western evangelical church fails to recognize the community that exists in the Spirit, and actually undermines the functioning of community.
“Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” said Jesus. This should give us a clue as to the reality of community and the nature of the Church. While the “One Holy and Apostolic Church” includes all Christians worldwide (no longer practical to meet in one place), an expression of the Church – and a very real expression of community – exists wherever 2 or more gather “in Jesus’ name.” Church and community, then, are not dependent upon having a pastor, a building, a worship team, or an organizational structure. It is solely dependent upon meeting “in Jesus’ name.”
I contend that very real and tangible community (and “church”) happens daily across the globe in homes, coffeehouses, backyards and places of work, wherever people get together with a Kingdom purpose, whether to pray, serve, or merely encourage and relate to one another. These “2 or 3” could be from different church families, different countries, or different theological positions; it doesn’t matter, as long as they meet “in Jesus’ name.”
I also contend that pastors are trained not to see or recognize this, for it often undermines the agenda of the “para-church” organizations that we call churches. In an age where a city boasts dozens and even hundreds of churches – often who recognize and respect each other – no one church can claim to be a church modality, or the only local representation of the universal Church. However, there is still a whole lot of kingdom-building (in the organizational rather than spiritual sense) going on, with many pastors jealous of any activity outside of their little organization in which their members may be involved. There is a definite tension between these church organizations (in my opinion, sodalities) and “The Church That Is,” that exists wherever 2 or more are gathered.
Take, for example, this sermon snippet:
There is no place for unholy individualism in this church. There is no place for just doin’ our own thing. If this is the place God has called you to… what it means is we begin to let go of our own of our individual stuff and doing our own thing … and we begin to ask … ‘how does what I do fit in with [this church]'”
You can feel the tension here, can’t you? It’s one thing to say, “stop following the wide path and get on the straight and narrow.” It’s another thing to say “this church’s way or the highway.” Could it be that the needs of the church organization are not in line – and even in opposition – with the purposes of The Church That Is?
The problem, as I perceive it, is the proverbial failure to see the forest for the trees, or in our case, the failure to see community and church for the people. One pastor may look out on a church and see people off in many directions, with little or no energy to maintain the processes of the church organization. Another may look out and see wonderful examples of community and the Kingdom in action. One builds a structure and tries to make his people fit; another sees the people and tried to create a structure to support them. I think you can tell which viewpoint I prefer.
A friend referred me to your blog… glad I found it. Very thought provoking – especially here in the pre-Colorado Springs “evangelical vatican.” I think your comment about local churches failing to recognize the truth of community at the heart of the Church – and rejecting it in practice as often undermines their agenda’s is a helpful observation… and sadly too often probably true.
I’m increasingly finding “church” outside of the corporate assembly, but am praying for a reformation of thinking and practice in the local assembly.
Having been in a situation where my wife and I stopped attending “church” for a little under two years, I have to say relationships (real relationships) soon developed with others outside the normal corporate environment. Although the people we began gathering with (2-3 at a time) attended fellowships, the reason for getting together was because we share Christ in common void of any of the trappings of trying to “get some where” as a group.
No new themes, new expectations or expextant “revelations” taking us to a new level as a people.
Actually the snippet from the pastors serman needs to be taken a step further. Imagine if you will God were talking to individual fellowships and the way they tend to operate in relation to other fellowships in workinf together to advance the kingdom, would it sound something like this?
There is no place for unholy individualism in this church (the body of Christ))
There is no place for just doin’ our own thing. If this is the place (I have) called you to… (the body of Christ) what it means is we begin to let go of our own of our individual stuff (pastoral plans) and doing our own thing … and we begin to ask … ‘how does what I do fit in with [this church]’”
Ay, there’s the rub…
Okay, I’ve got that out of my system. However, this indeed is the conundrum. We all know there are no perfect churches, and to “forsake the gathering together” is not a recommended path. And obviously, it’s not all that bad – there are far worse places to be on a Sunday morning. Not that this justifies anything.
Without meaning to sound noble in any way, it really comes down to looking beyond the organization and recognizing The Church That Is – or in other words, it’s about relationship with the people. It’s also about the valid question, “how does what I do fit in” and contributing that, not to build up the organization (and not to undermine it either), but to build up “what lies beneath.”
The community issue is much broader than one church. And, it’s something that I hope to be able to point out to a few people that matter, when I get the time.
Good question, by the way…
So, in all seriousness, how is it that someone with your perspective continues to support (by attending)an organization that is about structure first, people second? If, as you say, church happens wherever 2 or 3 gather, why do you continue to “sit in church” and, by your very presence, contribute to a system that misses the point?
I’m not trying to be contentious (really), but I am intrigued why someone with your convictions would be found in [that church] listening to a sermon by [that guy] you contend doesn’t recognize such a fundamental kingdom reality?