I can already tell this post is going to be hard to write. Some thoughts kind of simmer in the back of my mind and heart for a while and it takes a unique concentration (re: discipline) to bring it out on to the page (or, screen.) And honestly, my flesh fights it. It’s much easier to ignore the seed of an idea and just go on with the busyness of life but I want to be faithful with what I have been given in this moment and right now it is this. Focusing, praying, waiting, listening, typing out words, wrestling with ideas and sentences and paragraphs, and letting it all go back to the Giver of all good gifts.
So here we go. In light of everything going on with the “Big C” Church right now, I’m wondering if it might be a good time for some reassessment. An audit of sorts. What are the things that I’m referring to? Well, if you’re brave enough, you could join Twitter and see the good, the bad, and the ugly for yourself. Or- as a quick reference- the lawsuit settlements from Willow Creek Community Church, the rape allegations from (and subsequent firing of) the Southern Baptist Convention’s Paige Patterson, and the horrific PA Grand Jury report against hundreds of Catholic clergy. I included those links in case you were unfamiliar with the current news stacked against the church but I don’t recommend you dwell on the content. It is worth looking at, of being made aware, (especially for the sake of the victims) but it is truly evil.
Here is my question: are we, as Christians, holding on to the institution of church too tightly? And let me qualify that even more. Are we, as Western/American Christians, holding on to the institution of church too tightly?
Our nation was built on the foundational philosophy of religious freedom. But what would happen to the Church (“Big C” Church here- all who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and recognize him as head of a greater body of believers), here in the United States specifically, if those rights were to be 100% revoked? Now, of course they are already being stripped away in ways obvious and not-so-obvious, but that isn’t the point of what I’m asking, so I’ll let that sit for another time.
But let us imagine for a minute that every right we have grown accustomed to as citizens and people of faith- the right to publicly and peaceably meet together for worship, the right to publish religious content (be it advertising, any and all kinds of written work, musical and artistic expression of our faith, teaching/preaching, etc.), the right to pray openly, the right to discuss ideas about God in the public square- was taken away from us, full stop.
What would we be left with?
Hopefully, we would be leaning ever closer to our Lord and learning from him about what he means when he says that “My kingdom is not of this world…” Hopefully, we would be tested by the persecution and found approved. Hopefully, we would view the hostile climate against an institutional church as a gift- one that brings refinement of the Saints and new, authentic growth. I know this is hard to imagine. We have had it so easy, so good, so comfortable, for so long! But maybe this comfort, this system of religiosity, isn’t the thing that Jesus was birthing among his disciples. I’m inclined to think that he was getting at something more.
We are in a special moment as a group, as an association of people under one banner of Christianity. The charges (from the world and from within) against our structures of power and the consequential fall-out of abuse and heartbreak are forcing us to look ourselves in the mirror and ask important questions- questions about absolute and corrupting power, about a culture that idolizes leadership, and about what produces real and lasting spiritual transformation. So what will we do with this moment? Conversely, if we are to carry on in the same way that we’ve been going for awhile, for hundreds of years (maybe longer?), what do we expect of the outcome?
I pray, truly and fervently, that our nation does not have to endure real persecution of the Church in order to wake up. That we can receive this moment in humility for what it is- a moment to turn from the self-focused, consumer-driven way we’ve grown accustomed to and instead submit ourselves to the actual head of the Church, to Christ himself, for life-giving leadership. I’m not saying it will be easy, in fact, Jesus already warned us of the narrow path. Not all will make this choice. There will be many things that must go to the alter for sacrifice, things that we’ve tethered to the way of the lamb (things that are perhaps weighing us down?), and only the Shepherd can make that call. Are we willing to walk in a deeper obedience? Are we willing to submit to the formation of a true and tested Church? Even if it costs us everything?
These are hard questions but the good news is that he, the author and finisher of our faith, has already gone before us. Christ calls his Church to be refined, to be tested and found ready, to go the way of the cross- but he doesn’t call us to anything that he has not already endured. We have a choice in this moment to stay in our system of security, of external religion and platform-building, or to follow the way less traveled, a hidden treasure, waiting to be revealed.
I pray that we don’t have to endure persecution to make this choice, but I honestly desire for the Church to be matured even more than I want us to avoid discomfort. May we be willing to let go of anything, and I mean anything, that tries to take the place of Christ as the head of his own body.