A few of my recent posts have been surrounding Barna and Viola’s book Pagan Christianity. Even though I don’t agree with the conclusion of this book, I think it raises some important issues about the life that is often missing in what we call the church.
I want to reflect, though, on some of what I’ve experienced over the past couple of weeks within an institutional church. It’s been a good time to read this book, because I’ve been encountering some of the dynamics that churches long for. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture. The church I’m part of is full of messy people and if you were with us five minutes you would realize we don’t have it all together. But…
Last month we finished looking at Judges, which (among other things) points out that the problems of God’s people go far beyond structural or leadership change right to the heart and to the gospel. It was a good reminder of where to look for the ultimate solution. But it’s hard to walk away from Judges feeling good about our ability to do anything to pull ourselves together in whatever structure we choose – institutional, house, or otherwise.
Last Sunday I preached on Ruth, a story that took place at the time of the Judges. There are no miracles or dreams in Ruth, no angelic visitations. Just ordinary people going through hard times showing loyal love (hesed – I love that word). It hit me as I reflected on Ruth that this is exactly what I’m surrounded with: ordinary people, many of them going through incredibly hard times, showing loyal love to others. It is through this very dynamic that God preserved a royal blood line in the time of the Judges that eventually brought the Savior of this world to earth.
I’ve been seeing this kind of love everywhere I look lately.
Today I took part of the funeral of a man. I won’t get into all the circumstances here but I got to see the church really being the church. What I have seen in the past couple of weeks is such a profound statement of love by ordinary people that I hardly have the words.
There’s more. On Christmas Eve, our service was mainly a time for people to come to the microphone and share what Christ coming to earth means to them. I’m always scared people will get up and talk about memories of backing shortbread with Mom, which is fine – but I wanted it to be about what Christ’s coming meant, not just happy Christmas memories. The first person who got up talked about being clean from cocaine for a month. There were other stories like this. Broken, ordinary people, and God doing something in the middle of the mess.
We have lots of challenges. We’re not a glitzy church. We do need to wrestle with many of the issues that Barna and Viola raise.
But I’m also glad that we are more than just a preaching center in which people come and passively listen. In small and big ways we are the Body, and it is surprising how God shows up in the middle of the mess when his people go looking for him. This is not the most logical response to Barna and Viola – that’s in a different post. It is, though, a recognition that for all kinds of reasons, a big one being grace, God still shows up in the middle of all kinds of churches. And I’m profoundly grateful and more than a little bit in awe that he does.