Saving Church

A former neighbor forwarded me this article.  It’s a good article that challenges the oft’ voiced, rarely substantiated assertion that changing/modernizing the music or the liturgical-ness of congregational worship will result in more people coming to worship.  I like the article as a whole and agree that it is not generally the format of the worship that matters.  We all have preferences, to be certain, but it isn’t the format of worship that matters as much as the formation of the worshiper.

So I disagree slightly with where the author ends his sermon, with a call to service as the means by which, basically, church grows and church is saved.  Mission-mindedness should be a part of personal Christian formation, and less specifically the programmatic aim of a particular congregation or church entity.  If we need our church to define a mission area for us to participate in, we probably aren’t personally doing a very good job of loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Or even knowing who they are.

What got me thinking though was the concept of saving the Church, particularly in combination with the beautiful hymn (one of my favorites) that the author segues to (Built on the Rock).  What is it that we think the Church is, and how do we see it in need of saving?

I begin this consideration with the assumption that the Incarnate Son of God meant what He said when He promised his disciples that his Church would, indeed, stand.  In other words, it is not the Church – that fluid membership of followers of Jesus Christ – that needs to be saved.  There will always be followers of Jesus Christ because Jesus promised us this (Matthew 16:18).  I, therefore, do not save the Church.  You do not save the Church.  We do not save the Church.  Councils and committees and programs do not save the Church.  The Holy Spirit of God saves and preserves the Church.

Our duty is not to save the Church, but rather to be the Church.

Crumbled indeed may the spires be in many lands, and even in our own lands, the historic bastions of the faith as our knowledge and connection to the larger world has deepened and widened.  Steeples are not the Church.  The faithful in Christ are the Church.  It is not the preservation of the spires, per se, that we are committed to.  We are not spires, but we are the Church.

But what we often mean when we talk about saving the Church is saving my church.  My congregation.  My parish.  My sanctuary.  My fellowship hall.  My classrooms.  And if we conflate these things with the Church, then we may well need to be very active in saving the church, because Jesus never promised that hell would not overcome physical buildings or plots of land.  He promised hell would not prevail against the Church.

My church property may need to be saved.  Many people are spurred to panic or even, as a last resort, evangelism, in order to save the church property.  In order to ensure that the doors stay open and the light stays on and the pastor gets paid or at least the organist.

The Church as we see it visibly may appear to be faltering.  Doors are closing, congregations are shrinking and aging, traditions are getting lost in the shuffle.  But the Church remains wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus the Messiah.  The Church remains wherever the leading of the Holy Spirit predominates even if human organizational systems are not needed or even possible.

So we don’t need to save the Church.  We need to be the Church.  We need to be serious about discipleship in the way that Acts 2:42-47 describes it.  And it describes it in terms that many of us might feel uncomfortable with.  The intimacy.  The amount of time devoted to silly things like growing in faith through teaching, to fellowship, to sharing meals and prayer.  Not much mention of missionality in the sense of finding a Cause to commit the church to.  Individuals led by the Holy Spirit to live out the reality of their faith’s primacy in their lives.  Making it clear to themselves first and therefore to those around them that nothing was more important than their Lord and Savior.  That kind of living will get people’s attention naturally.  We won’t have to organize feeding lines for the hungry or clothing drives for the homeless or political action committees in order to build relationships to maybe share the Gospel.  I suspect that people will beat a path to our door if we’re crazy enough to actually prioritize our time based on what we claim is not just the most important aspect of our identity, but the defining aspect – being the Church as opposed to trying to save our church.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s