I grew up with a baby sister, and Mom and Dad bought her a play kitchen and dinette set. These toys were a hit, a feature of many an hour spent in play time. The reason I mention it is because sometimes Sis would ask me to “play house” with her. It always involved setting her little table with the little plastic plates and pretend silverware, maybe cooking a pretend pie. The pretend time was so much fun.
Today, we have small foster and adopted children living with us. We have provided them with all the kitchenette toys money can buy, alright. The stuff these kids play with today is even more “realistic” than the toys of my youth. It’s so sophisticated that it almost looks and feels like it’s not even pretend.
It’s all lots of fun, of course, but not one ounce of it is REAL.
And that has me thinking of “church” as I have known it throughout my life.
I was raised in a particular sect which thought we had reproduced the church of the New Testament, and thus we were the “true church.” We felt so strongly about this that we relegated all others to the bound-for-Hell, bargain bin. The others were all fake – just pretending, and sadly so damnably mistaken about it too.
I don’t hold such an arrogant view of our sect myself – anymore. In fact, I don’t know anybody from that sect who still holds such views anymore. We have all, it seems, grown up and matured a little since those “good old days,” or so it seems. Or maybe we just have more sophisticated ways of pretending now, and it seems so real, when really we just pretend.
We raise a crap ton of money and build a new church building on the white-flight side of town, put up a higher steeple than ever before, ornate and complete with stained glass, concert lighting and sound system. Then we throw up a sign claiming this place is a “church” and treat it like a theological social club for members only. The exclusivity is way more subtle these days, but functionally, it’s still there. As for the “body of Christ”, in the New Testament, that body was mobbed by poor and needy people crowding and pressing in on him, but the “church” I meet with is crowded by Lexus, Cadillac, and Lincoln and sends a special contribution to an administrator we employ who deals with that crowd aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way across town.
And you know what?
You don’t need a building to be a church. You don’t need a paid pastor. You don’t need a sound system. You don’t need stained glass. You don’t even need a sign out front claiming you are a “church” at all. You don’t need any of that stuff, but of course in our culture, those are the clues both insiders and outsiders desire so they can pretend they are either in or out of the right place.
No. You really only NEED one thing to be the church, and without it, you are just pretending.
What is that one thing?
(Oh you can quibble over the semantics if you must. I am not using theologically technical jargon here. But if this “body” doesn’t have God’s Spirit, then it is a Frankenstein monster, and NOT Jesus or his bride. (There, did that clean up the concept enough for you now???))
Yeah. If God is NOT in the house, then it ain’t temple, and the church is the temple of God’s Spirit (read Ephesians if you need to).
But this “church” I have attended all my life is a fake. And while faking it, we claimed all the others were fake.
Seriously, we claimed we had reproduced the New Testament church as God intended and outlined in the New Testament. Thus you found a plurality of bishops, weekly observance of The Lord’s Supper, believer’s baptism, and not one note of instrumental music! All this among a host of lesser concerns which also were treated as of first importance.
Did we follow the first two commands?
Sometimes, a little. But they were not the marks of the true church, as we stressed them. So love of God and of neighbor took a back seat to these other more pressing concerns – the same God who tells his children to take away the noise of their worship which is vain because all the pretending makes him sick.
But we have moved past all that now. We preach “GRACE” now… at least that is how we pretend it. The motto at the congregation where I belong is painted in huge letters in the main lobby saying “Love God and Love others.” It sounds like we finally have the first things worked out. But if by love you mean open the church-house doors to the poor when it gets winter cold, well.. NO. Actually, we have a class you can pay $30 to take where the deacons will TEACH you NOT to do that, and NOT TO HELP TOO MUCH in fact.
This from the New Testament church?
Have you ever read your New Testament? Do you not know that the true church in Acts 2 and 4 sells all they own and gives it all to the church (the body of Christ) where the poor no longer have need of anything? Yeah! The New Testament church knows the REAL value of money, and the REAL value of the poor, and at least attempts to live a life of LOVE for God and neighbor that bears witness to it with a clarity that a sign over the door saying “church” just never can!
I’m not claiming the church of the Bible was perfect. They weren’t, but they didn’t pretend it either, not for long anyway. This stuff we read about them in Acts is exactly what Jesus instructs the rich young man to do when he asks what he must do to have eternal life! “One thing you lack… go sell all you own, give it to the poor, count your treasures in heaven, and come follow me.” (I read that somewhere! I always worried that maybe that doesn’t actually APPLY to all people everywhere at all times, but now that I read my New Testament, I find the church there thought it applied to them!)
(Hey. Just for kicks, and for just a quick moment, humor me and consider this thought: What do you think the members of a church like the one found in Acts 2 and 4 talk about over Sunday lunch? Do you think they talk about how the new coach is doing with the local team this season and whether we have a chance at the playoffs? Do you think the preacher at this New Testament church dresses up in team colors on Super Bowl Sunday and cuts the sermon short so the congregation can “make it home in time for kickoff”? Or do you think they spend extra time in fervent prayer for the Johnson kid and the Wilson girl that got thrown to the lions in Rome last Thursday, and ask God to make them more “BOLD” for the cause? (see Acts 4:23-31). Is Jesus getting a little too REAL for your comfort now???)
Yes. And when I asked if my “church” could merely host the homeless to sleep on our lawn on a Saturday night (not even daring to ask if they could come inside where it’s warm and dry), I got hem hawed by two elders before a third finally denied me this request because of “liabilities.”
That’s a fancy word, but do you know what it means in ENGLISH???
It means: “That’s a great idea, [Agent X], but we checked with Mammon, who is REALLY in charge here, and he said NO. … Awww… so sorry. Don’t take it personal…”
Feel me yet?
But now I got this one problem.
Where in all of Lubbock, Texas (or TEXAS for that matter) can I go to find a CHURCH that isn’t pretending? Where will I find a church that isn’t playing house of god with all the fancy utensils? Where will I find an assembly of disciples who actually sell all they own and give it to the poor???
Got a number I can call???