"Iím convinced that most Christian meetings give people enough of Godís things to inoculate them against the reality of His presence.Ē
That sentence leapt at me from a book called "So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore" by Wayne Jacobsen. It seemed to contain the answer to so many questions my wife and I have had about corporate worship and how the spirit seems to fizzle when church becomes a program instead of a relationship.
Every Sunday, thousands of churches around the globe are inoculating people against the infection of Christ. Churchgoers get a little worship, a little message, some prayer, some quick fellowship -- then out into the world they go, protected from Jesus until they get their next shot of grape juice.
There is also little threat they will pass any of the "germs" along to someone else.
To read the title of this book, you would think it would be bashing the church. Instead, it gently reminds us that we Christians ARE the church. Each of us, where we are right now, are on journeys to the faraway land where our Father lives. He longs to have a relationship with each of us. He wants us to trust Him implicitly with our lives.
We all have a hunger for God in our hearts and trot off to the nearest religious hot-dog stand to knock the edge off. Each vendor has something a little different to offer -- maybe a bratwurst or Italian sausage, grilled onions or nachos. Each vendor has his own loyal clients who, consciously or not, begin to build up the virtues of their favorite eatery and downplay those of competing franchises.
I use a hot dog stand specifically because I don't want to belabor the issue of size. For years I thought churches only began to lose sight of relationships because they grew too large. Now I realize that size just magnifies an issue that comes into religion from its inception.
I've known for years that we humans see things upside down. The Bible tells us so. Success has nothing to do with money; strength is not about physical prowess; we must die if we want to truly live.
But as I looked at church life, even at small groups, I found myself thinking again about the greatest commandments as spoken in Matthew 22:36-39.
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
If our hearts' desire is to follow those two commandments, why would we start searching for a church building to do it in? Do we need to be instructed by someone else in how to love God? Aren't our neighbors right next door?
Church is not a place to go. It is a way of living in relationship with Christ and with each other. Once we truly know Christ, we will naturally form meaningful connections with other believers, not out of guilt or because our pastor told us to, but because it truly feels good!
Jesus indicated that whenever two or three people gather in His name, they would experience the vitality of church life. That kind of fellowship doesn't happen between people sitting in the same pew any more than it happens between people sitting in the same baseball stadium.
But sharing with others how Jesus is working in our lives is not safe. We have to reveal what was broken before we can praise Him for what was fixed.
In this process, we begin to reveal Christ in each person; we begin to build the Body of Christ and to be the Bride of Christ. When that is the foundation, a true, vibrant church arises and grows, person by person, not brick by brick.
And here is where some truly marvelous gifts live. God has given us the gift of His Son to mend our relationship with Him. Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we have the gift of sensing when church doctrines or sermons or programs are out of line with the heart of God.
In the end, it's not about whether we stay in one church building or denomination or whether we go. It's about why we make the decision. When we surrender our decisions to God, our choices will always be the right ones.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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