Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sacrifice and The Local Church

Church is a dangerous place often enough. I don’t know any honest person who hasn’t been burned by the church at one time or another. And I certainly know a lot of people who would never set foot back into a church for that very reason.

Yet I find there is a sinister irony at work. On the one hand, many people complain that the church is just an institution. Some follow Christ but aren’t part of the institutional church, and some don’t follow Christ at all for the same reason. I’ve certainly had my bitter moments with institutional Christianity. I agree that the church is the people and not the buildings and programs to which “church” so often refers. However, I find that people including myself oftentimes grow bitter with their local church because it’s not doing what we want. “This isn’t the way I want it” or “that could be done better”, and “why don’t we (meaning “they”, i.e., the leadership) do x,y, and z?” It’s as though there is this passive force within the human soul that wants a welfare institution. Now, I don’t doubt that some churches have power structures that would never allow regular lay-people to do some new thing — that’s oppressive. But there’s plenty of unwarranted belly-aching that merely perpetuates the whole institutional cycle. We’ve got the clergy and the laymen. The clergy need to make me happy or I’m going to bail!

Honestly, I’m just pondering this phenomenon with a clear conscience. I am not involved in any situations presently that would fit this bill, so I’m not venting or anything. Instead, I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming of a church that would wake up and get it:

Ask not what my church can do for me, but what I can do for my church.

This morning, as I pondered how we’re ever going to become a relevant force in society, the Lord brought this scripture Haggai 1:3-8 to mind:

3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD.

This came to me not as a word written long ago, but as a word that is being spoken this very moment. It has the sound of responsibility and sacrifice. We might have given up on the dream for which the apostle Paul gave his life. We might even say like the people in verse 2: “The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.” But it is time to consider our ways.

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