January 26, 2009

Monday Morning Message - The State of the Church

Rather than rehash the photos and observations about our local church family from yesterday I want to share some thoughts on the state of the church in a broader sense. This is a totally off the cuff, stream of consciousness post. What follows has not been thoroughly thought out or researched. These are simply my thoughts and observations about the state of the church as a whole.

We've gotten side tracked and in so doing have been hijacked by our own thinking. Secondary issues have taken on primary importance. This must be corrected. The world knows what we are against, they are not so sure what we are for. We spend more time and energy bashing the latest beast to appear in the culture war than we do loving the smallest and the least among us. I fear we reflect the character of the Pharisees of Jesus' day more than we reflect the character of Jesus. Perhaps it is time for the church to drop its weapons and embrace a fallen culture with the love of Jesus, remembering that we too were once enemies of God.

This in no way implies we should apologize for the truth we uphold. Sin should be revealed for the destroyer that it is. We should never apologize for speaking the truth. However, I believe we have many apologies to offer for the times we have spoken the truth in anything but a loving manner. As the writer of Hebrews states, "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword..." (Heb. 4:12). Handle it carefully. It cuts both ways.

There is a marvelous renewal of missions. Our Baptist missions sending agencies report an increasing number of individuals engaged in short and long term missions, both close to home and far away. The world has shrunk and I can now be in contact with all kinds of people from all kinds of places. Exhibit A, this humble blog has been accessed in 34 nations recently. From the Philippines to France people have had the opportunity to have an encounter with an unapologetic follower of Christ. I have had the privilege of personally watching individual's view of the world change as they worked side by side with believers from another country. Suddenly the family of God becomes a little bigger in their minds and foreign countries don't seem quite so foreign. They are nations of people who need to hear that Jesus offers them salvation, free of charge!

The 'Emergent Church' has emerged, and surprise, surprise, it looks a lot like a lot of other churches. Physically, sure it's different with very little stained glass and nary a pew bench in sight, but structurally its not much different at the end of the day. There is a pastor (teaching, senior, vision, lead, etc. - a pastor by any other name is a pastor), some staff members with some wonderfully creative names (Associate Pastor of Prayer and Desperation Ministries), a group which has responsibilities of accountability, and a veritable army of volunteers to carry on the work. After a whole lot of semantics wrangling we've arrived back at church.

Opportunities abound. I have shared with the flock I shepherd that the culture in which we live looks like and sounds like the culture in which the early church existed. Does this list sound familiar? "Repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved;divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable additions; ugly parodies of community." It's Paul's description of the world found in the letter he wrote the church in Galatia. Kinda' eerie isn't it?

Rather than fall prey to despair and become angry over the changing culture let us rejoice that now, more than at any time in our lives, the world stands ready to listen to good news, euangellion, the gospel. In a world seeking meaning the church offers purpose for living. In a world weary of death the church offers life. In a world worn and torn by hatred the church has the opportunity to offer grace filled, unconditional, Christ-like love. May it be. May it be.