Please read this, consider it, and offer an answer.
I am a churchman. I believe Jesus when he says, “On this rock I build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!” (Matt. 16:18).
Now… we might argue over the meaning of all, or any part of, that statement. And in arguing at that level, we might illuminate features that go normally unseen (even by me). But I have no desire to argue that Jesus said it, that he meant it, or whether he might or might not be wrong about it. No. I will take that much at face value. This is the word of God for us. We must accept it.
But here’s the thing: I know LOTS of people who “do not believe in organized religion”, who say – “Give me Jesus; keep your church”, and practically every Christian in the world today either goes their own way (Lone Ranger Christian) or is part of a splintered off denomination. Some way or another, we are all splintered off the rock and the church Jesus builds. We are not all together as one church – an assembly which apparently raids the gates of hell and wins!
My point is not to plea for unity in this post (though everything I say will beg the question). Rather, my point is to question just what we thought “church” was supposed to do. What do you think church does? What does church offer? What is church supposed to offer? What is the point of it? And especially… What among these questions is unique to the church that is found no where else?
I know I am speaking of an ideal church here. But isn’t Jesus too? And even with flaws, what excellence should we strive for?
I am not a Lone Ranger Christian. I belong to both Catholic and Protestant communions – as a matter of negotiating the break among us in my own life. I believe in “religion” (James 1:27) and church (Heb. 10:25). I believe in the word of God (II Tim. 3:16). But we have rejected these things in our rejection of each other. And I sense we have lost our sense of vocation – our reason to be.
Yes, I am a churchman, but I am a critic too! This also is biblical. Just look at every letter St. Paul writes; he fills them with correction and critique. Look at St. John’s Apocalypse with its letters to the seven churches – churches filled with flaws, damage, and heresy! Yes, I am a churchman, but I am a critic too.
But getting to the nub of my point, my work as a street minister, prison minister, and hospital minister puts me in close quarters with lots of para-church ministries that somehow think they should and even can step up to fill some void that the church ignores, but I think that is a mistake. Jesus did not start a 501c3 on that rock. And I fear the gates of hell can withstand the assault of a 501c3! But if Jesus is right, then there is something the church has to offer the world that no other organization can.
What is that?
Please think about it and offer an answer.