…attitudes like that are all the rage these days, even within Christian circles.
You might have clicked on this post because you’re one of those disinchanted, used-to-go-to-church-but-now-am-anti-church folks, you judged a blog post by it’s title (not always a bad thing), and you’re seeking some confirmation of your attitude.
If that’s you, this blog post will disappoint. Ha! Gotcha. Might as well keep reading, though, since you’re here anyway.
This weekend I had plenty of time on my hands, so I read a book–Why we Love the Church: in Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. I’m used to seeing titles like Everything Must Change (an actual title) or Why Your Church Sucks and Jesus Never Came to Start a Religion (a title I made up, but it’s probably out there). The last ten years or so has seen a large proliferation of folks disengaging from their churches, “doing church on their own,” and such. The book was written as an antidote to much of the anti-church rhetoric that is popular these days. The book gave me much to ponder, and I found it the proverbial “breathe of fresh air,” something I don’t hear much these days.
The book was full of good theological and historical critique of the “anti-institutional church” side. The authors did a great job showing how that movement makes their case based upon unbiblical views and false assumptions about history, and they did a great job pointing out the practical value of institutionalizing, which isn’t necessarily unbiblical. But biggest payoff for me was on a more personal note.
I gotta admit up front, though I still faithfully go to my church–RockHarbor in Costa Mesa, CA–I count myself as one of those above who, at times, has been disenchanted with church. Some, no doubt, in the anti-church crowd have been burned by a church and/or individual Christians–more on that later–but in my case, I sometimes just have a plain old sour attitude.
Frequently on this blog I’ve written posts critical of things I hear in Church and in my own church. I stand by all that, partly because I happen to think I’m right, and mostly because my critique deals with beliefs and doctrine of the false kind. Hey, if Paul and the apostles can do that, so can I.
But herein lies the rub: oftentimes I get upset with Christians and church because, though I’d never explicitly admit this, I subtly expect perfection from my pastors and church staff. I forget that no church is perfect and cannot deliver heaven on earth. I exaggerate the faults and sweep the (many) good parts under a rug, giving much less grace than I give myself.
The authors, in the book, make this point: my generation is given over to utopian thinking, and this is where much of the anti-church attitude is coming from. The church is full of “sinning saints and sinning sinners” (“saint” simply being the New Testament word for Christians, not the modern usage of the term denoting someone who led a pristine life–though you’d hope the two go hand-in-hand.), and everyone in the pews on Sunday–me, you, and those who have left the church in disgust–fit in one of those two categories.
This week I have come into very intimate contact of my own sinfulness. I am a fallen man. Everyone in church is like that…it can be no other way. Therefore, there are bound to be a few–nay, even many–rough edges. This is the nature of the beast and it is therefore unfair to subtly expect the pews and pulpits to be filled with Mother Theresas and MLK jrs.
Secondly, yes it is true, Christians and the church often sin, and very public examples of grave failures in Church leadership are a dime a dozen. We can admit that they are all over the place. However, the utopian types (and I put myself in their number), somehow never get around to admitting that there is an awful lot the Church–and my church–is doing right.
As to RockHarbor, my church does a good job of combining deeds and creeds, which is all you can ask. On any given weekend, you’ll see evangelism, classes in theology, ministry to the homeless, financial support of relief efforts overseas, missions trips to India, Taiwan, and Uganda, house building trips to Mexico, mentoring foster kids, and tutoring. And that’s just off the top of my head. The actual list is much, much longer. Every week I get an email in my box detailing opportunities to give of myself to service causes, and let’s just say that the email is usually pretty long.
My church somehow does this with limited funds and utilizing much less than 50% of our membership. Just think what it could do if everyone was involved! I’m willing to bet my church isn’t the only one out there like this.
Yea, yea, there are a ton of things I wish RH was doing better, and false beliefs abound in the church that need confronting. But the problem is that for guys like me, there’s always the “next thing” that I think the church should focus on, and then they’d be doing a great job. I’m never satisfied!
If not apologetics and evangelism–which, really, is lacking in most churches. I will die on that hill–then it’s AIDS ministry. If not AIDS ministry, then its freeing the Invisible Children in Uganda. If not freeing the IC, then its urban invasion. If not urban invasion, then its deep theology classes. If not that, then classes on analyzing contemporary film through the eyes of a biblical worldview. If not that, then its campaigning politically against this or that evil. If not that, then its getting out of politics…and on and on and on. The pinacle is always on the next hill.
Thus, with an attitude like this–which is popular–the church will always be failing.
I need to acknowledge that there’s an awful lot that’s right, and therefore a more balanced assessment is called for.
The pastors and elders are great leaders. The last teaching pastor–Mike Erre–was about as genuine and authentic as they come. For all the flack I gave him about isolated things in his teaching, he was an upstanding man of God and a great teacher…yep, it needs to be said: I’m glad I had the chance to be under his tutelage for 5-6 years.
And for the record, were I up there on stage, I don’t think I could get even close to doing as good a job as he. I have my own blind spots, I tend to want to please people, and that combination would make for some real bad teaching. And I don’t think I could handle the criticism either. I’d crumble.
The current teaching staff is just as great. I think they strike an appropriate balance between deed and creed, head and heart, and this balance is hard to find.
Another source of sourness in myself comes from another false expectation: I expect “revolutionary” experiences 24-7, when life, in fact, is more of a plodding along in the boring, simple life, day by day, hour by hour.
The authors make this point: which is more difficult–being a rockstar who travels to foreign countries, calling their governments out about their treatment of the poor and forgiving debts, or being a blue collar mechanic dad of four kids, who faithfully and famelessly works every day to provide for his family, and who serves in his church every week in the background, without reckognition, again without fanfare?
The point here is not really to suggest that one is more difficult than the other, but that our culture definitely lifts up the former and pays little attention to the latter. The result is that utopian types get easily bored with the day-to-day doings of life. We want to upset the apple cart, topple regimes of evil, and turn the world upside down, but we get church instead. So we get disgruntled and leave. The culprit is not the day-to-day life, but the false expectations of mountain top experiences placed upon life.
Another confession: I frequently am bored in church. I think “geez, another week of insipid worship songs…another sermon…more worship…prayer…why does it have to be the same every week? I’d rather be watching football.”
The problem isn’t the church service–the problem is me. I forget that the Bible calls us to coorporate worship of God. I forget that the teaching from the pulpit is a necessity in my life, for it has, on many occasions, corrected false attitudes in my thinking. I forget that the songs of worship calls me to ponder a greater orbit than my own personal one. I forget that organization is not diametrically opposed to the Holy Spirit’s agency (the Holy Spirit sometimes–often–works through excellently executed, organized human agency). I forget all the benefits of weekly attendance at church.
I am thankful that a team of knowledgeable men spend 20+ hours per week in study and research, preparing the week’s teaching. I am thankful that there is an opportunity to worship through song. I’m thankful that there is space for prayer. I’m thankful there’s always an opportunity outside of the Sunday service to get involved and make a difference, and boy am I thankful that there’s always an opportunity for me to respond personally to the truth shared.
God calls each one of us to simple obedience and faithfulness. For a select few–like Bono–that will mean a life of excitement and stardom, but for most of us, it will mean plodding along, in mechanic-dad-of-four-like fashion. We should make peace with that.
So in conclusion–warts and all, I love the Church. I love my church.
Post script: I sometimes wonder what would happen if all the anti-organized religion folks suddenly got together, formed a group, and organized.