Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Distant Church

Church flight seems to be a growing reality. A recent Barna survey revealed that:

  • Nearly six in ten (59%) of these young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away from either their faith or from the institutional church at some point in their first decade of adult life. Second, the unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade, from 44% to 52%, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing among the nation’s population. Third, when asked what has helped their faith grow, “church” does not make even the top 10 factors. Instead, the most common drivers of spiritual growth, as identified by Millennials themselves, are prayer, family and friends, the Bible, having children, and their relationship with Jesus. 

Many are therefore asking the question, “How can we make church more relevant.” Perhaps, instead, we should be reaffirming the Bible’s teachings about the church. First of all, the church is central to our Lord’s purposes, and therefore, it should be central to ours. In some strange and transcendent sense, the church is His Body and workshop:

  •  Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body… This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:28-32)

We are mysteriously connected to Christ and to one another, much as a husband is connected to his wife. The connection is so intimate, that when we love our spouse, it benefits us. This parallels the reality of love in the church. If this is so, we also need to strive to love the brethren. As the Lord grows us through marriage, He also does this through the mystical union of the church:

  • Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)

While each one of us is a dwelling of the Spirit, it also seems that He corporately resides with His church in an intimate but mysterious union. However, we might not sense His Presence. Growth in His Body is a process:

  • Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:15-16)

The growth comes from Christ, but it is also necessary for “each part” or member of the Body to do “its work.” If we are not serving one another in love, we will not grow as we ought, and church will seem irrelevant. Paul therefore prayed:

  • That you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17-19)

Paul’s prayer suggests that if we are not “rooted and established in love,” we will fail to perceive the extent of God’s love for us and to mature spiritually. Besides, church will remain a disappointment.

Christianity and relationship are inseparable – our relationship with one another and with God. Without relationship, there is no Christianity. We cannot love, learn, encourage, correct, and grow without it. We were made for relationship, and we find the foremost expression of relationship in the Body of Christ. It is also the foremost evangelistic vehicle:

  • “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23)

According to Jesus, when we are properly connected to one another in His Body, this will impact not only us but also the surrounding world. They will see the truth of Christ. Perhaps oneness within the church is the missing element in much of our evangelistic efforts. Consequently, we must make Jesus’ prayer – His cry to the Father - our prayer. It is our unity, our love for one another, which speaks wisdom to all creation:

  • His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph. 3:10; 1 Tim. 3:15)

The church and its oneness in love and wisdom is the light to this world. It is therefore not surprising that we are warned to not neglect congregating:

  • And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)

We cannot love one another in isolation. This requires contact and commitment, but this is not easy. It is nothing that we can do on our own. Love is that mythical island of treasure, but it is guarded by hungry crocodiles. It may seem inaccessible. Church had, for a long time, been a dissatisfying experience for me. I can only thank my God that He opened the door for me.

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