Let’s face it. We live in a culture where going to “church” has come to be seen as archaic or outmoded. As I talk to people around New England, ironically I find very few who question God’s existence. In fact “spirituality” is on the rise.
“Nobody wants to think of themselves as religious anymore.“
When people hear that I am a minister, I often get something like, “Oh I am not very religious, but I do consider myself spiritual.” “Spiritual” is the new virtue and “religious” the new vice. Nobody wants to think of themselves as religious anymore.
So what is wrong with Church today? I think the bottom line is that people do not see how it is relevant to their current life and pursuits.
Why is that? I think there are two reasons: one is the Church’s fault and the other is everyone else’s fault.
The first reason is that the Church has greatly contributed to the loss of its voice in the culture. It has been judgmental, unsupportive, while also not holding the line for truth. It has prided itself on doing things the old way and has at times not been teachable on how to engage a culture that is changing faster than ever before.
On the other hand, many people have largely written off the church and some of the old ways too quickly. We have fallen prey to thinking “new and improved” is always better. But looking around, I am not convinced. We have more data, technology, and luxuries than ever before. We also have more divorce, broken families, crime, rape, child abduction, child porn, human trafficking, and organized crime than ever before. Is this what we want as a culture? The disintegration of the family and the local community is more severe than ever.
The Church of the first few centuries challenged the world with a new community that stood against the debased time of Greco-Roman culture. What do I mean by community? I do not mean merely living near each other. Today we are lucky if we know the first name of our neighbor across the street. What I mean by community is people who know each other, care about each other, and share a mutual vision of supporting and caring for one another.
A Private Existence
In all our many social and business circles today, most of us live an emotionally private existence, left to struggle alone in the silence of our beds at night. The calling of the Church is to be a real community to “one another.” The New Testament abounds with such language of “one another.” It is a language of mutual love and support. James 5:16 says: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
The Church is the community of repentance; if you are Jesus’ disciple, you are admitting your moral need of his work on the Cross.
Most of us don’t naturally think like this today. As much as we like to talk about being “authentic” and “real,” we don’t naturally confess our faults to each other and ask other people to pray for us and our struggles. Most of the time we are trying to guard ourselves acting like we have it all together so people accept us.
Church As a Community of Repentance
So why go to Church? It is certainly not because the church is without fault. The reason to be a part of a supportive faith community is that truth be told, none of us are without fault. Many people’s reason for not going to church is the alleged “hypocrisy” of everyone there. But that is not truly being honest. Embracing the Gospel of Jesus and joining his church is by definition an admission of guilt, need, and repentance. The Church is the community of repentance; if you are Jesus’ disciple, you are admitting your moral need of his work on the Cross.
Holiness to the Lord
Holiness seems as outmoded as the Church. But it is holiness to which the Church and the entire Gospel of God labors. In our lectionary readings for Pentecost 10 | Proper 15, our Epistle reading was Hebrews 12:1-14. Here it says that God “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (12:10). This is the purpose of the Gospel, and likewise the purpose of the Church. The writer says only a few lines after in 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” That is why we both need the Gospel and God’s church. Without it, we will not be formed to share in God’s holiness. But it is only of value to one who has realized that there is nothing more valuable one can pursue than God himself. He is the great treasure of all treasures; the one thing no man can lose if he clings to him.
A Place for Those for Who fall Short of the Mark
Every person falls short of the mark. That is what “sin” actually means—to miss the mark. Picking out each other’s faults is like shooting fish in a barrel. It just isn’t fair or sportsmanlike. At Church of the Apostles, we are a very imperfect group of people with very imperfect leaders who are trying to practice the “one another’s” that Jesus taught. We fall short a lot, but as we practice, we get better and learn to be more like Jesus. More importantly, we help each other face each coming day and life challenges together knowing that we have a spiritual family who is pulling for us. And that is a very reassuring thought.