By Scott Giger
I admit that I am one who likes to buck trends. Maybe it’s my nature as a “Gen-Xer.” Maybe I just think too highly of my opinion over that of others in society.
I like the fact that I rooted for the Boston Red Sox while they were in the midst of their 86 year “Curse of the Bambino.” I am proud of the fact that I still don’t have a Twitter account. I still wear a goatee when the acceptable facial hair trend is a beard. I admit that I do not like to go with the flow. So maybe that explains my distaste for the current cool trend in Christianity of speaking against “church.”
The trend goes like this: I am a follower of Jesus who has managed to escape the confines of church. It sounds appealing enough. The idea is that being a believer in Jesus somehow frees you from the structures of the congregation of believers. It is me and Jesus on this road of life together.
This is a dangerous path to tread. God intends for us to live in the fellowship of other followers of Jesus. This is for our own good.
Other believers are given to help call us back when we get too far off course. It happens. We know it. We start a cycle of sin by submitting to temptation. We decide to try it just a little. We don’t get caught. We dabble a little more. We go a little further. We push ahead and need more. We are sin addicts. What can break the cycle? In part, the community of other believers.
Other believers are given to speak truth into our lives. In the Bible, Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (Gal 6:1).
Maybe the reason that people wish to eschew the purpose of church as a fellowship of believers to help us break the cycle of sin is because they have never seen it done. They have never been witnesses or participants in the restoration of one “caught in sin.” Instead, they have seen believers who hurt each other by not acting gently and in love.
More likely, they have never experienced the joy of breaking a cycle of destruction that is painful to endure, but wonderful to complete. There is joy in a redeemed life. Believers are meant to call us back gently, but also to speak the wonderful comfort of the gospel.
By myself, I can be convicted of my sin. However, I can never speak life-giving words of forgiveness in the name of Jesus to myself. God wants me to hear the words of forgiveness. God wants me to be in community with other believers. In fact, he has designed us to need community.
This is not normal behavior in our society. We are called on to be self-sufficient. We are ingrained to be ruggedly individual. Those might be good principles for work life, but they are devastating to a life of faith. Simply put, we cannot do it alone. “Me and Jesus” does not work.
I’m not done. There’s more. Church is good for more than just sin and forgiveness. It is also meant for encouragement. We are called to spur each other on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). Imagine a church where believers are urging you to do the right thing – like loving that seemingly unlovable neighbor.
Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe people haven’t experienced that either. They have experienced the coldness of people who worship together without ever really being together. Whenever possible, there are open seats between people. There is polite conversation before and after worship. There is a parking lot where people smile and wave, hastily heading for brunch.
While reading Acts 16, I stumbled on these words, “The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy.” I thought those were interesting words. Digging a little deeper, I discovered that we might say they “bore witness” to Timothy; they “commended” him. That piqued my interest.
How many believers could vouch for one another? Even more to the point, how many believers could bear witness to another believer’s faith?
I started to ask. I asked guys who had known each other for years. I queried women who had been in Bible Study together. “Can you vouch for his faith?” “Can you give testimony to her strengths and weaknesses?” Initial defensive yeses turned into honest open nos.
That speaks directly to the superficiality of the community of believers called church. This needs to change. How do we get past this?
I guess that’s the problem. I could continue caricaturing the church based on stereotypes (most of which are true!). I could write about people who don’t want to submit to any type of authority but themselves; about others who refuse to be accountable; about those who avoid boredom as if they have a right to excitement.
Where would that leave me? Cynical? Angry? Disappointed at what I have let the church become?
I have to be honest: I would much rather spend time creating a church that is contrary to the trend. I would rather spend time being the church that God intends.
It isn’t going to be easy. Many people have already given up on the church. That’s the cool thing to do.
I would rather be faithful than cool. I start with a prayer that grows from Paul’s writing to Ephesus (5:25), “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” The prayer goes like this, “Jesus, help me to love your church the way that you do.”
I am open to however God wants to answer.