Sunday, November 12, 2023

In Which I Equivocate

Your local church is dull.

To be fair, they probably can’t help it. They wouldn’t know how to be any other way. It’s who they are: older, more traditional, kind of set in their ways, and it seems to suit them. Sure, the Bible teaching is sound and Christ-centered, but the singing is dreary and antiquated. You’re not looking for charismatic excess, but a little genuine emotion once in a while would be nice.

Shouldn’t true faith transform the heart as well as the head?

What’s a Person to Do?

You have other concerns. Your suggestions about getting together outside the scheduled meetings of the church meet with little enthusiasm. You don’t golf and they don’t like to go on long walks in the countryside. You almost never get a dinner or coffee invitation. You are beginning to doubt whether the other congregants really see you or care much about you, or want any more out of you than a weekly handshake and a few lines of amiable chatter. You don’t want to be uncharitable, but nobody you’ve talked to seems to be looking for much more than a comfortable routine that enables them to kid themselves that they have fulfilled their Christian duties.

Is anyone else at your church is seeking a more authentic way of living out the Christian faith? If pressed for evidence, you wouldn’t be able to point to any.

What should you do? Church hop? Find a more appealing local gathering? Rethink your position? What would the Lord want?

Questions the Bible Doesn’t Answer

Will you be disappointed if I tell you the New Testament writers really do not address questions like this? Because they don’t. I will not help you much by quoting “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some”. You want more “meeting together”, not less, or at least a more intense experience of meeting rather than stuffy formality and surface chatter in religious language. You’re not proposing abandoning Christian fellowship, you’re just thinking about choosing to meet with Christians who do things a little differently.

Dismissing your concerns with a few clich├ęs will not help you, especially if you are not just a chronic complainer. I probably shouldn’t do that. Still less am I likely to condemn you for spending a few Sundays at other local meetings if only to see what’s out there.

Church Hopping in the First Century

The issue of church hopping never comes up once in the entire New Testament. It was not a choice about which anyone needed counsel to find the Lord’s will in the first century. After all, things were simpler then. Paul didn’t have to write one letter to the Presbyterians in Galatia, another to the Baptists and a third to an enthusiastic gathering of Pentecostals. If the believers in one city were too numerous to meet under a single roof, they met from house to house. Either way, Christians knew each other and were in each other’s lives on a regular basis.

The apostles and missionaries who planted churches taught new believers all the same things about faith and practice. Sure, there were different views on certain subjects as the apostles moved on from place to place and questions arose in their absence. Nevertheless, all believers in one place were members of the same local congregation.

If you didn’t like what they were doing when they gathered or outside of it, you didn’t have a whole lot of options. There was simply nowhere else to hop to. You were either in the church or out of it, or else you could find another city to live in. The only church option in your neighborhood either suited you or didn’t. It was what it was.

One Wrong Step

In some ways, we may be in a more advantageous position than the early Christians; we have a plethora of options to choose from. In other ways, maybe not so much. Christians who jump around from church to church are sometimes thought of as dilettantes with a consumerist mentality. That may be the case, but it is not always so.

The more the body of Christ as a whole departs from New Testament practice, as it has clearly done over the centuries with respect to denominationalism, the less scripture can say to help us out when we find ourselves looking for something more meaningful and biblical than our current church experience. That’s not because the Bible is inadequate or because the Lord failed to anticipate our modern needs, but because we are trying to ask scripture a question that cannot have much meaning when we insist on approaching it with a denominationalized church as a precondition.

Our forefathers in Christ going back many generations took a wrong step. Like it or not, that’s our starting point. Seeking the Lord’s will in such a situation is much like asking the question Joshua asked the man with the drawn sword: “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” The answer he received was what lawyers refer to as “non-responsive”. “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.”

What do you do with that? You either get on his side, or you’re on the wrong side.

What the Lord Wants

Likewise, while we are all responsible to find a place where we can worship and serve the Lord faithfully, asking him “Which unnatural division of the body should I choose over the other unnatural divisions of the body?” is not likely to give us an answer from scripture that we can embrace with total confidence. The Father would like us not to be divided. He would like us to respect Christ’s headship. He would like us to prize unity as much as he does. And he would like us to put his goals ahead of our own. Whether we get excited by the singing here or there probably isn’t high on his list of priorities.

A few thoughts:

  • Getting ourselves invited somewhere for lunch is a lot less important to the Lord than whether we go to meeting prepared to extend the invitation to others, and the needier the better.
  • Being seen, recognized or appreciated by our fellow Christians is a lot less important to the Lord than whether we see, recognize and appreciate them.
  • Getting ourselves heard by the locals is less important to the Lord than whether we are paying attention to the needs of others and looking for ways to serve them.

An Equivocal Answer

You and I are not personally responsible for the existing divisions in the body. All we can do is make every effort not to perpetuate them, or to cause further division. Beyond that, our personal enjoyment of any particular local situation often depends most on what we are prepared to bring to the table where we are.

If that doesn’t sound like an unequivocal answer to the original question, it’s because I’m not sure there’s one out there to be found.

No comments :

Post a Comment