This post is from the defunct blog “Dying Church”
There's been a lot of good writing lately cautioning against extremism in rejecting "the church." I'm sure part of the tension is that the word church means so many different things to so many people. Maggi Dawn writes:
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY LOVE, AND WHAT DO WE MEAN BY CHURCH? Love the Church? it means that whatever you do in following God neeeds to cash out in loving people, and loving what's already there as an expression of following God. It also means embracing and acknowledging ALL of our history – even the bad bits – because, like a genealogy, that's where we come from. The idea that we can leave the Church and start over from zero is a fantasy. To abandon any kind of contact with the church that already is (in its broadest sense) diminishes the validity of what we do… With Church, the balancing act is one of making sure that we build new things in a spirit of love, not rebellion, without writing off or dismissing what (and who) is already there. We also need to examine our motives regularly – our visions are inevitably admixtures of calling and mission with a certain amount of self-seeking, and sometimes the desire to stick two fingers up at a Church we're fed up with. I guess for me, going back to Mary's analogy, loving the church is about constantly aiming to act as a grown up, not as a petulant child. None of us is born grown up. But it's like the calling to be a parent: you just have to decide to behave like a grown up, even when you don't feel like it. If we're honest, the wish to be petulant rises up in all of us from time to time. But we're called to be bigger and more gracious than that.
It is impossible to be a follower of Christ and not be part of a local church. There, I said it… When defining the Church, I tend to defer to the Reformers, who themselves deferred to Scripture. A local church is a group of professed believers in Jesus Christ (and their baptized children) who gather at least weekly to worship in song and prayer, partake in the Lord's Supper, and hear Christ preached from the Scriptures. As a covenantal community, church members publicly vow to serve one another and to be accountable to the elected elders in matters of doctrine and purity of living. If at least something like this is in mind when we speak of the local church, then "going to church" in its fullest sense means participating regularly in gathered worship and committing oneself to some degree of significant involvement in the lives of others in that congregation. It's hard to read the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) without this rough portrait of early church life coming into focus. Such a church body becomes a visible counter-culture-not just some kind of ad hoc gathering-a functioning community of potentially otherwise disparate people known for its mutual love and shared conviction that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe and hope of the world. If any of this seems overly critical of churchless Christians, I admit that my own guild ironically deserves blame for keeping people away from its congregations. My private theory has been that many young people avoid churches these days because they sense a creeping cheesiness in the very way churches try to appeal to them…
So there's a tension here. Both authors are right, I think, that we should not be too quick to dismiss the church as it has been. At the same time, we should not settle for the way things are. I seem to remember that Martin Luther faced this same tension. More to come.