An increasing number of individuals are discovering that organized religion and the institutions they create, often called churches are not responding to their individual or collective needs. Chruch attendance is way down, particularly among youth. I must confess, I have always had a love-hate relationship with organized religion. It would seem that I can’t live with it and I can’t live without it. A significant portion of my academic history was spent studying the history of Christianity. I have looked at the Church with its blemishes and often left disappointed. However, I have seen members of these communities respond with incredible courage and boldness in the face of injustice, poverty and despair. Individuals transformed by a gospel that has captured them and as a result – they transform the world in which they live.
I have moved from Evangelical Christianity to liberal protestantism and then into Morman ecclesiology (my wife is LDS) and now back to my evangelical roots. My faith experience validates the message of John Wesley that we are called to be disciples seeking Chrisian Holiness or living out God’s perfect love. Over the years, however, I have found that my faith is best lived and expressed in the struggle of living in the world. The institutions created by man and used by God often forget or neglect the world that so desperately needs its presence. Being present in the world can be terrifying. After all, we may find ourselves tarnished by getting too close to the heat generated by a broken and hurting humanity.
Dr. Paul Bassett a former professor of mine in Seminary often said, the Church is nothing more than scandelous humanity seeking God’s forgiveness and his perfecting grace. I think he is right. Another friend of mine, when discussing the Church, frequently reminds me of a quote from Dorothy Day, the Catholic Social worker who defended faith against a faithless communism attacking the relevance of the Church. Day wrote, “the Church may be a whore, but she is still our mother.” Harsh words, but it captures the tension, we who live and work within the context of faith, must constantly face. So many blemishes but a place where we gather at His table and confess our need for strength and redemption.
The Church is a vehicle – one vehicle for communicating and gathering God’s people. What we do in that gathering and how we communicate defines the nature of the Church. It is sad – that young people are increasingly discovering that the Church is irrelevant to many of the social issues that define their generation. They will seek their God in those issues and among those people facing those issues – and more than likely – that is exactly where they will find Him.
H. Richard Niebuhr wrote in Christ and Culture, we have three options – 1) We can withdraw from the world; 2) We can fully embrace or confront the world; or 3) We can withdraw in order to confront the world. I am finding that in order for me to be fully prepared to do the work that I do, that I must withdraw in order to confront. In the end this strategy is what will sustain us in the important mission we have to live out a love that shatters hate, prejudice, injustice and brings reconciliation to our relationships. It can be tough to be around Church, but I think the world will be lost without it.
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