What matters in life is loving God & People, and there are lots of non-church people I know who do that better than many church people, so…
Why bother with Church?
This has always been a fairly common question from those barely engaged in church. But this question matters more and more to me because I am hearing it from some of the church’s most faithful kids who are now adults. They are becoming a movement of religious “nones”.
Gospel transformation should result in good character. Church is meant to be a big part of that. But what happens when you are a young professional with good moral character who stands up for the vulnerable, you live your life with gratitude, and you cannot see why being part of Sunday morning performances is worth your time or money?
More pointedly, what if those at church rationalize siding with abusers in the church or in politics? And what if the church tells us we should we be giving more money for fog machines and lights to put on a nightclub level show every Sunday morning? At some point erring on the side of simplicity just seems more sensible.
People Leave the Church or the Church Leaves People?
On social media I’ve begun using the hashtag #ChurchianityAmericana to differentiate my critique of various forms of church from my loyalty to The Church. For various reasons, many church communities have become increasingly expensive theatrics competing for market share in a shrinking American Christendom. Civil Religion, in the form of idolatrous patriotic worship songs & political alliances rationalized beyond Christian distinctives, makes the problem even worse. I am with those who believe that this version of “church” has left us, not the other way around.
But what options are there?
Mega-Church is not inherently bad or wrong. But that form of church does run into some hard questions quickly. The expenses are one concern but deeper concerns lie in questions of community. Instead of making a detailed argument I’ll simply ask this. How much does your church push committed members to serve as volunteers in order to give an easy experience to new visitors? What happens if those visitors become members? Are they discipled into becoming volunteers to serve the consumeristic preferences of the next down-level group?
Churchless Christianity is not Christianity
The story of the Bible is that humanity became splintered and competitive against one another (Genesis 1–11). In Genesis 12 a promise is made that a man is blessed to be a blessing, and that all peoples everywhere will be blessed through him.
The end of the Bible is the revelation that people from all nations and languages and varieties are unified with one another and God in this world, but in a renewed and healthy way. The whole point of the Christian gospel is community; community of loving God & other people together.
While we are already aware of the Gospel of Christ’s Kingdom, we are not yet in that final reconciliation of all things. This already but not yet phase is where the church is meant to gather to do three things:
Faith = Studying Why Allegiance to Christ is Good & Right
We gather together as The Church to remember our identity in Christ. We study the apostles teaching about how God is reconciling everything to himself through Christ. Specifically we do this through Bible study and preaching and discussing. This informs us, equips us, and strengthens our identity.
Hope = Celebrating the Future Completion
We are in the already phase of seeing God’s reconciliation through Christ overcoming death with life. But the not yet deserves our attention as well. Through the Lord’s Supper, prayer, singing, and other forms of collective worship, we celebrate a future hope together. Gathered in our diversity we display a glimpse of the unity that is to come.
Love = Sacrificial Service as a Way of Life
Jesus summed up God’s commandments in Matthew 22. Love God & Love people is all God had to say, and everything else is just detail. Paul says in Romans 13 that love is the fulfillment of the Law. Love is what the Christian message is all about. We often hear this at Christian weddings when 1 Corinthians 13, the Love passage, is read to us.
Goldilocks Church = Just Right Gatherings
Love is what matters, and gathering together around Love is crucial. Gathering as The Church simply needs to be sure to have faith (study), hope (worship), and love (service) to be biblical. The size of the church is not the issue. It can be a big gathering or a small gathering, but gathering together is essential. Yes, love is what matters most. Eventually love will be all that is left. But that is the future hope that our faith is pointing to.
Church is Growing up Together in Love
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:8–13