|This church in Veszprem, Hungary was one|
of many I saw in 1997 that looked beautiful
and stately, but was rarely used.
The institutional church receives lots of flak these days, and in some respects justifiably so. Nonbelievers perceive it as pompous, self-righteous, rigid, irrelevant. Even for those that regularly attend churches, it can seem distant, self-indulgent, out of touch, more focused on programs than people’s needs.
In my spiritual journey I’ve been involved with more than a half-dozen denominations, a dozen congregations, and held leadership and teaching roles in some. I’m not a church-hopper, but geographic moves and periodic urgings to seek a new “home” have given me insights into this unique, universal, spiritual family we call “the Church.”
One of the main problems, as I see it, is many churches act more like organizations than what the Bible says they should be – an organism. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 the apostle Paul describes the Church as “a unit, although it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body.”
|European churches present a unique|
beauty, but often, as in American
congregations, vitality is sorely lacking.
This human body metaphor suggests one of the main functions I think a church should serve. (Later this week I’ll look at another.) Joining a local congregation should be like being admitted to a hospital. When you’re ill and in need of urgent care, you don’t hear the hospital staff saying, “Come back later when you’re feeling better. We don’t want sick people in here.” Of course not.
Too often, however, people attending church feel they must act like they have it all together, like they truly “couldn’t be better.” In fact, every one of us is hurting in some way – carrying baggage from earlier in life, struggling with behavior patterns we can’t control, suffering from broken relationships. And most often, feeling apart from a healthy, growing relationship with the Creator.
Instead of being able to enter, pain and all, and openly share our “symptoms,” too often we feel the need to put on Sunday smiles – our happy masks – and disguise the hurt within.
The hospital comparison of apt, too, because typically when admitted for treatment it takes a while for the medical staff to diagnose the problem and identify the proper course of treatment. This is true spiritually as well. Romans 3:23 reminds us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So recognizing we’re all suffering from spiritual disease is simple; determining how to remedy strongholds of sin is more difficult.
Yes, the Church today – particularly in America – has many flaws. And as a member of the family, I have the right to admit that. But there’s still something special, unique about being a part of a body of believers sharing the same faith in Jesus, the one who declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I know that sounds narrow, certainly not very “tolerant.” But He said it, not me.
Later this week, I’ll propose something else an effective church should look like.