For starters, you have to read this for the rest of this to make total sense. I love what I’ve read from this guy. Those who read my blog (you’re apparently bored, for starters) will probably agree with me when I say that we may have been cut from the same stone.
So now that you’ve read it (are you getting that it’s important?), what do you think? Should you go to church? Given that a (likely) vast majority of churches in America have this sort of ‘feeling’ to them, should you still go? Is it a waste of time? Is it too organized? Is it too predictable? Does the Holy Spirit show up in routine and planning? Are we wasting our time for an hour or so on Sunday mornings only to turn away and not be changed?
Man, this is tricky. Every point he made is an excellent point. I want to provide some respectful push back, and I’ll try to keep it succinct, because I want to hit the point in my title of going vs. being. (But let’s be real. I don’t do succinct, so gut it out with me)
While I am not for putting time restraints on the Holy Spirit, let’s back up and take a look at time. This has always been a personal belief of mine, so this is in no way sound theology. I consider myself to know little to nothing of whatever “theology” means today, and more importantly, I certainly didn’t live in the culture of the day, nor have I studied Greek and the Jewish/Gentile culture that Jesus was living in (all of that is far more important than anything that CS Lewis or Charles Wesley has to say with their Western perspectives and interpretations). God created day & night. He created time. When he did this, was he already pointing to the cross, just in creating day from night? We read in Revelation that there is no night. There’s really no concept of time. Time, while beautifully redeemed, is still necessary because of sin. Because of the fall. Because of the weeds that man must now pull and break his back for. We would need no time if we lived in perfect harmony. We would pay it no heed. Could night and day still exist and us live outside constraints of time? I don’t think so. The turning of the day, the changing of the hours, position of the sun and moon, etc. – all of it places us under a schedule and our bodies were designed to react – all because God saw the mess coming…and chose to make it anyway because of his immense love. And further, he chose to design us in a way that would react healthfully to these changes, and even need these changes to live. Yes, Adam and Eve lived without sin – for a time. I think the cross began to redeem what we’d made of time. It tore the curtain in the temple and gave us 24/7 access to Yahweh without the need to go through the High Priest. It gave our souls an ability to no longer rely on days of sacrifice, because the ultimate sacrifice had just uttered with dying breath, “It is finished.” So here we are. Living crazy schedules, wishing we had more time. Here we are scheduling our church services, needing to be mindful of time. I don’t agree with rushing through services with the same ho-hummed schedule week after week after week, but I do believe that since we serve a God of order and not of chaos that, to a degree, we have to recognize some sort of schedule because we’re human – and in our imperfection, we’re constrained by it, so our worship services are at the mercy of our own flaws in a way.
But what about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? He came and the people responded appropriately, did they not? They didn’t shush the Spirit and say, “Not now! We’re getting ready to move from our three songs and into the sermon! Come back later!” This is where I agree wholeheartedly with Chris. He makes a good point: sometimes we just get too expectant of the same thing over, and over, and over. But what’s interesting is the Day of Pentecost didn’t happen at the temple. It happened at someone’s house. The believers had gathered, perhaps for what we consider a small group time, and that’s when the Spirit moved. Honest question: Do we expect the wrong thing from our church services? I’m honestly wondering if maybe God saves the ‘big stuff’ for the ‘small groups’ first of all, because it produces less chaos, which is just like his nature. Do something big in a small group of people. Have you ever tried to accomplish something huge with a huge number of people? It’s a hard thing to do. It works so much better when you can work in a small group and get one-on-one, or three-on-one, or whatever. And second of all, when we enter church with an attitude that’s anything other than bringing thanks and offering before Jesus Christ in a communal aspect, we’ve missed the mark. Church ain’t about what we’re wanting Jesus to do to us, or what feeling we want him to bring to us. It’s about praising him for what he’s done in the past, what he’s doing now, and what he will do in the future. Can he move within that and do something huge if he wants to? Absolutely. He’s God. He can do whatever the heck he wants. My point is, it doesn’t seem like that’s when he chooses to wreck us to the greatest degree. And I think it’s like that for good reasons. Anything can become routine, but I think he knows that church, more than many communal gatherings, is prone to getting stuck in that rut. It’s hard to move among a large group when they all have no expectation that he’ll move in different ways, or they have different expectations about how he should be moving, or how he will move or can move (differing theologies are so much fun, aren’t they?!). I think he still loves the church, though. And I think that may be a backstage reason as to why he encouraged consistency in meeting in small groups: he had the Twelve, and from those he had the Inner Three. It’s easier for us as humans to be reached, to be vulnerable, to be real, and to be ferocious with our faith when we have two or three beside us doing the same thing. It’s difficult to move a couple million through the desert, as Moses found out. It took 40 years to get to their destination while it took the Twelve’s ministry considerably less time to fan into flame the Holy Spirit inside them to reach the far ends of their world – literally.
The following conclusion can be drawn from everything I just explained: We go to church to worship and praise corporately, not necessarily to be fed in huge ways, as that is our own spiritual responsibility. Church is a time to plug in with those around us, but our personal/small communal times outside church are perhaps best for our growth and understanding. That’s not to say those who preach are off the hook – don’t misunderstand me. Should we continue in our same church ruts? No. And frankly, I believe it’s the church’s head leadership that should be taking responsibility for the ruts. It won’t be the congregation that decides to make the change – it will come from the leadership. That being said, I don’t think we should leave our Sunday morning services because we’re frustrated or we can’t concentrate. Following Jesus and loving his church requires sacrifice. If he loved the church as a whole enough to redeem her, perhaps we should return that love by humbling ourselves, accepting the brokenness of the system while still voicing our concerns, disciplining our minds to stay focused, and continuing to praise and worship corporately.
With all that being said, keep reading in Acts and church doesn’t look anything like what we’ve made church into today. Church actually looked a whole lot like the small groups I talked about. And maybe that’s why we feel this groaning in our souls that something needs to change. House churches seem to be a lot more on-target with what was happening in Acts. Somehow, some way, along the way we got caught up in larger crowds, reaching more and more and more, etc. and those are great things – don’t get me wrong. But we lost sight of the importance of the small things and how to carry on the Great Commission in ways other than just bringing people to church. After all, Jesus came as a baby born to two individuals. He didn’t show up on the scene as a ruler of an entire country and govern 20,000 people at one time. He knew what we needed. He knew our hearts needed the small to understand the large.
However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and overhauling the entire system in one day seems a bit conquest-driven, so we go to church. And we be the church. We live out what we read the New Testament church to be in Acts, as well as the ministry that Jesus lived out. All too often we get confused and forget that church is a lifestyle. It’s hard to think like that, isn’t it? “Church is a lifestyle.” Nuh uh, it’s a place! That’s what our mind automatically computes, because we’ve grown so used to going to church instead of being the church. It doesn’t help that our minds are pairing a word with a visual representation (the actual building) that solidifies it even more so in our brains that church isn’t in me, but in front of me. It seems that our minds need further discipline than just paying attention.
With all of that said, that’s Hannahology. I’m probably totally wrong, but there it is nonetheless. Kudos to Chris Martin for bringing something this important up and being willing to be honest about where he’s at (follow his blog, by the way. You won’t be disappointed). I’m right there with you, brother. It gives us opportunities to speak up and not turn away from the Bride of Christ, but help her become more of what he seems to have meant her to be. Now, if we could just figure out how to go about getting it done… :)
Pray. Seek. Do.