This is (hopefully) the first and last time that I write about this. Nevertheless, its going to continue to be a topic of discussion within my close circle for sometime longer.
Today, I visited a church that I was the member of since about the time I got to Charlotte until last Fall. During that time, I enjoyed the fellowship, and learned a few things here-and-there in terms of adult-style life skills. I can’t say that the entire time was great, because I did more giving than receiving – and that does warp my viewpoint a good bit. But, it was the time given, and I’m grateful for the empowerment that came from that time.
So, in today’s visit, I had hoped to see folks that I’d not seen for sometime, and get a refreshed impression towards church vs Church. What I got was church… which repeats much of what I’ve gotten from all over this area since being here.
Let me explain…
(c)hurch – that is, with the lowercase ‘c’ – is the institution, the behavior, the mannerisms, and religion that many Americans are accustomed to. You “go to church,” you “need to be at church,” there’s deliverance/salvation/correction/etc “at church.” This statement, while always meaning to refer to the people before the institution, usually becomes practiced the other way around. And its one heck of a hard thing to get away from – especially here in the Bible Belt.
Then there’s (C)hurch – that’s an upper case ‘C’ – which usually signifies the entirety of the Judeao-Christian faith, defined first by Jesus, then by the activities of the Holy Spirit throughout all the people who follow Jesus by faith. If you aren’t careful, the big ‘C’ can turn into the little ‘c’ very quickly – and this is usually because at some point, we lose sight of the verb that goes before the word.
When we ask folks, “are they going to church,” we talk of the faith as described by the institution and behavior. There’s little attention paid to evaluating one’s faith beyond the preached (and sometimes studied) Bible (Word of God). We are looking for a set of behaviors and mannerisms which indicate to us that these persons are following God because their words and actions are reproducible, and have the distinct smell of the traditions that we’ve been taught. Of course, “are they going to church” can better be stated, “are they religious or spiritual?”
Last Fall I was confronted with this very blah perspective. This perspective that for one reason or another had me asking Sunday after Sunday, “why are we going to church when we are called to be the Church?” If you will, why am I going to something (spectating and responding as an animal to a bell) to something that is supposed to be the very core of my character? I asked myself and a few friends this question often – if we are to “be the Church” how is that different from “going to church?”
There’s no easy way to say this, except that I felt that I dropped the ball. For all of the teaching, preaching, blogging, loving, living, etc. that I’d been doing as a part of a church, the fact of the matter was that all of these things were missing the point. By not getting past the behavior of “going,” I was not “becoming.” This prompted too many more questions – many of which were ill-timed – and a move from that church body to taking the perspective of looking at the institution in this area.
What I’ve found in the places that I’ve visited, and with those whom I’ve spoken with, is the same thing. The approach of making church a destination has devalued the character of the Bride of Jesus. You see, the church – that is the entire Judeao-Christian faith and all of its members throughout time – are all patched together to be and become the mate of Jesus. Its this crescendo at the end of days – this ending of sorrow and pain as we know it and the receiving of the most everlasting love and fellowship ever demonstrated in the heavens and earth – that we all are being prepped for. Being “saved” is a part of things, but oh-so-small in the mosaic of what’s happening here. All of us are to be patched together towards being a Body that will one day have its Lord, its Head, attached for all of eternity.
What’s cool about this is that we are to be experiencing this in a drastically scaled down fashion now. When pockets of Jesus followers get together, the end result shouldn’t just be songs and an exposition of Scripture, but an outpouring of love and compassion that changes the DNA of the communities and culture around us. Its not segregated, its not offertory. Its not finding a moment of being spiritual, and hoping that this euphoria lasts a few minutes longer – but its abiding in the life and teachings of Jesus such that everywhere your feet tread and voice rumbles, there’s nothing but life that sprouts up afterwords.
Its this eventuality-in-practice that I’ve been looking for around this area, and have not seen it. I’ve seen several small pockets of people, some willing to be that pocket of love and compassion and genuinely changing the areas around their church plots. I’ve seen some individuals making an effort to get into the cracks of communities and find those people who’ve been disenfranchised, and then restoring them spiritually, emotionally, and even economically so that they could once again be vessels of Jesus’ love and compassion to their communities.
And I’ve seen the same ole church. Pockets of people trapped in mindsets and behaviors which breed nothing except fancy baby-making machines, following trends and disturbed instances of euphoria, and never getting past those moments, towards becoming instead of simply attending.
When I visited, I had hoped that the prayer & worship meeting was just that – elevating life past the Sunday affair and being catalysts for changing the little ‘c’ into a big ‘C.’ Much like a few emails and SMSs that I’ve received lately, that change just wasn’t there. And so the questions remained…
“…have you found a new church?” “where do you go these days?”
Over the past weeks, I’ve remarked to a few (close) folks that it makes no sense for Jesus to come back to earth for body parts. Like any man anxious about his bride, Jesus wants the total package – and for that package to be whole. He will esteem the body completely, and he will expect the body to take care of and admonish itself completely – not giving more prominence to one part over the other. There’s nothing in the church that looks like anything more than body parts sprayed and segregated all over the place. That’s not the kind of body he would marry.
When will the little ‘c’ mature into the big ‘C’ – making itself a fit bride for the Eternal King? Or, is the little ‘c’ destined to be all that people reach for because instead of being the subject of this earth and the object of His affection (big ‘C’), its the object of comfort and destiny of all institutions?