Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Purpose of the "driven" Church

Homor's Puritan-Self-Flagellation

I'm going to write brutally honestly here, so don't be shocked.
I write from the experience of growing up in a Baptist church, sending 15 years with The Navigators and attending many other Churches for the past 25 years.

I truly believe that the real reason that most people go to church is for penitence. They do it because; 1) they believe that God wants them to and to fail going, they will disappoint God. If they miss church, they will suffer from guilt until the next opportunity to go to , 2) To worship God, through praise songs worship service, 3) See friends, and then maybe, 4) Pastor's teaching.

I mentioned "penitence" as a reason that many people go to church to my pastor, and he became very offended that I would suggest that. He is a good teacher, but even in our chruch, I've spoken to many people who say they don't listen to him . . . but come to chruch because as Christians, they "have to."

Now this trend may vary from place to place. For example, the Baptist church I grew up in, I am sure it was strictly penitence. It was beat into our heads at a very early age that "God wants you in church!" The church itself was a joke. Sunday school is where we younger boys learned (from older boys) how to get into your girlfriend's pants, how to make pipe bombs and the like. The pastor there was a terribly boring speaker. He didn't teach scripture but more a Norman Vincent Peale feel-good sermon with one verse. But he was not as articulate as Joel Osteen. I'm sure the reason so many people go to Osteen's huge church is for the good-feeling pick, me up.

I suspect that the people who attend the more charismatic Churches do so for the lively worship.

This is where we need to go back and re-visit scripture. I will not quote a lot of verses here, besides you know them all and because I frankly don't have time to look them up and post them. I do encourage you to re-read the entire Bible and look for the trend I am about to describe.

We Christians must come to grips that we are pleasing to God, in Christ plus nothing. It isn't Jesus and going to church each Sunday or Jesus and anything. Our Godliness is Christ's covering.

Starting, even in the Old Testament, I see God as giving His law as two-fold; 1) To drive us to Christ (by the impossibility of fulfilling it) and, 2) God's gift to mankind. By following God's rules we live better. But I do not see the Bible as a source of rules to obey in order to win God's pleasure. Our righteousness is God's gift in Christ.

Growing up, we were told that the Bible is a list of God's rules, that we need to follow, in order to please Him. The Navigators that I was involved with had the same perspective. So, Church is not about (in my humble opinion) things we can do to make us God-pleasing, but Church should be seen as God's gift to us.

But, in Scripture, I also see men (and women) as constantly getting it mixed up. From Solomon, who wanted to build God a temple. God made it clear that he wasn't asking for a temple. It seems that in the end, He did grant Solomon the privilege for building Him a temple . . . but it seems to be for Solomon's sake not for God's.

But God serving us makes us very uncomfortable. It reminds me of Jesus' conversation with Peter in John 13:8

"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

Next this brings us to the Sabbath. I could do many postings on this subject a lone, but like with all of God's commands, the Sabbath law was given for two-fold reasons; 1) Drive us to Christ, as a metaphor of the rest that we have in Christ, and 2) for OUR benefit. We need rest and God, who made us, knows this best.

In my growing up, we were taught that Sunday was the Sabbath and it was the Lord's Day. It was designed FOR GOD. Therefore, we had to get up, go to church, no swearing, no working (not for our benefit but to simply please God) and do this and that on that day to please God because it was His day . . . not ours.

So, my last point of deconstructing all that we have previously thought about the Church is this; the purpose of the church is not a program for us to earn God's good pleasure . . . but as God's good gift to us. So, as I re-construct, what I think is my ideal Church/church (big C and little c), I will come from this angle that it is God's gift for me.

I know that this sounds egocentric. This makes us very uncomfortable, as it did Peter above. With my conversations with Muslims, this is the big difference in our approach to God. They see Islam as man attempting to do things to please God. Christianity is all about God doing things for us.

With those things said, I will now attempt to start my re-construction of my ideal church. But, I will mention again, this is Mike-centric. What I see as my ideal church is not a meta-narrative for what church should be for everyone. I have many, many wonderful friends who would feel completely out of place in the church I create, but very comfortable in the normal American Evangelical church.


Brian said...

At our current church, the big draw is the sermon. I think congregation likes it that way and I think the pastor does as well. In fact, I think he sees as the primary means for spiritual formation in the church. And everything else is just an add-on. That's a big part of the reason we're looking at other options right now.

Looking forward to where this series goes.

MJ said...

That's great. I love good teaching and that's what attracted me to our present church. The thing that is missing in our situation is the deep level of fellowship and relationships that I've been use to.

I attend a Christian Reformed Church, started by the Dutch. It may be a Dutch thing, but they frown on honest sharing within a Christian context. But the teaching is good.