Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Church versus the church, Part V -- Glorious and Annoying?

Ephesians 5:1, 25
Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children...Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Remember the hymn, "'Tis a Glorious Church"? Does anyone sing that these days?

Do you hear them coming, brother,
Thronging up the steeps of light,
Clad in glorious shining garments,
Blood washed garments, pure and white?
'Tis a glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle....

The Ephesians passage sounds so mystical, so idealistic, so....dare I say, "sappy?" to me when I stop to realize how far the Lord's Church (sometimes called the "Bride") actually is from being without spot or wrinkle. I agree with the late Mike Yaconelli (whom I quoted back in Part I of this little series) when he said, "I have criticized, challenged, avoided, rejected, rebelled from and ranted at the church." Ditto for me.
So why should we (indeed, I would say must we) do it to ourselves? Why must we put ourselves through the strain of dealing with others who may irritate, annoy, frustrate, even damage and hurt us--or maybe just make us a bit crazy? Why not stay home on Sunday morning and meet with God alone, singing and praying and reading the Bible, listening to a TV sermon from a minister who may be much more eloquent than my local pastor, or maybe going online for some connection with other believers? I love to worship and honor God alone in the silence of my room or the fresh morning air of my backyard, and as for TV or the Internet, I can always click the remote or the mouse and exit if it gets difficult or annoying.
I would venture to say that about half of the believers I know have done just that--opted out altogether. I know one woman who has communion once a month--all alone at her kitchen table. Others, and I have them in my parish too, show up occasionally but sit near the back and dash for the door almost as the final "Amen" is still being spoken. I can only assume this is so they can be in church for the parts they like but can avoid those annoying fellow-believers.
Brothers and sisters. Family. Loving and caring and creating a safe haven of encouragement and nurture. It is a nice idea. Norman Rockwell's paining of the Thanksgiving Day table comes to mind. The day-to-day life of family is sometimes not so idyllic. Is there anyone with a sibling who has not had a "fight" no matter how close they may sometimes be? The same is true with our "siblings" in the Family of God.

For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. I John 4:20b

Therein lies part of the answer. If we say we love God, we must love people too. We cannot really love fellow believers until we interact. Not all are loveable, are they? But God's love is perfected in us as we struggle to find God's grace, forgiveness -- and sometimes just practical ways to get along together. If we absent ourselves from the rest of "the family" life might hold less challenges. It would also hold less growth, less love and less opportunity to see God at work among us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ah. the "sweet" challenge of life in community. where else but within church community do we have soooo many opportunities to walk the talk. ahem. boy have I got a long way to go. lol.