I was known, but nobody knew me... - Nate Larkin (author of Samson and the Pirate Monks)
What brings about the death of a church? Can anybody tell me? Anybody? Is anyone out there?
I am no authority, but if I was to guess, I think I would begin with sin. Sin seems like a no-duh sort of answer for such a general question. But let's get more specific. What would be the most common form of sin that has the potential to destroy the church from the inside out?
For this, I have another guess. It's the sin we use to cover up our sins: hiding. It began in the garden and reigns supreme in our world today, especially in the Evangelical church.
Once again I'm no authority, but I'm simply speaking from my experience. For I know what my major tactic is with my sin: hide it at all costs. Do not let anyone see it, for if they do, you will suffer seperation, alienation and rejection.
Why, for so many of us, isn't the church a safe place? Let me paint a brief picture. While I'll confess it really only takes me five minutes to get ready for church, if I wanted to look the part I'd need to go shopping. The very clothes we wear do not often represent what we intend - honoring God with our best attire - but rather a form of hiding.
Now there's nothing wrong with getting dressed up for church. But what's happening inside us while we do? Are we dressing up our sins, straightening up our messy lives, rehearsing the correct venacular, and proceeding to church as something other than our very selves. Sadly, I need to admit that this is what I often do.
I don't want to be known, it's too risky. I want to be known, it's the only way out. If I could summarize what is wrong with the western evangelical church today in one word, it would be hiding. We're a people that are hiding.
At least in the New Testament, people would boast over their sins. One NT fellow was even boasting about sleeping with his mother in-law. Talk about a different picture than what we have today. Obviously, that needed addressing, but my guess is the NT church didn't suffer quite as much with hiding as we do today. They were still young enough in grace to not have turned it into looking good. (Of course Galatians was written all about this.)
In talking about the church in this way, I may be falling into one of the many schemes of the devil, so maybe I should delete everything I just wrote. For it's not fair, there are plenty of churches that are reflecting the grace of God through shared brokeness. They are clinging to Christ as their head and are truly growing in grace. In fact, I'd have to say this is true for the churches I attend.
So why am I still writing? Because I still think I need to hear this, even if no-one else does. I really don't want people to know that I'm a miserable wreck of a human being, that I desperately need Christ every second of every day and that I often resist him every second of every day.
But sometimes I wear my wretchedness as a badge of pride. I'll admit that sometimes don't brush my teeth before church, simply because I don't want to talk to people. With make-up and perfume it feels like such a fake venue for authentic conversation.
And when I struggled more with chronic anxiety, I would absolutely dread the meet and great portion of our service. My hands would get clammy and my mouth dry, and I barely could get myself to say hello and say my name. I remember one service, simply leaving to go to the bathroom and waiting outside until this dreaded time had passed.
But back to what's good that's going on in the church when it comes to hiding. Many are beginning to find appropriate ways to confess their sin, mess and struggles through small groups.
I've recently joined a group of guys who are sharing everything we can think of, not just to get stuff off our chest and feel good about ourselves, but to wrecklessly depend on God to bring his grace into our messed up lives.
Small groups are doing this all over the place. I love this aspect of small groups, as hopefully, they are safe-places where people can confess their need for God.
I think I understand that there's a need for coorparate worship. But I also know there's a need to see the body of Christ in action. What I mean by this is that when we're together in large groups we're much more apt to hide. There's just too much to lose in being vulnerable. But it's very important that we see and worship in larger coorporate settings, I think.
Where is all my rambling coming from today? Well I'm just finding out that I've been terribly lonely in my sin for a long, long time. There was simply no venue, or I hadn't searched out any venue to grow with my brothers and sisters. I had often spurned "discipleship" groups as being exclusive and being a substatute for more substantive personal growth in Christ and through "Christian disciplines." What a joke! I realize now what an idiot I was for thinking this way.
My fellow travellers on this path of "Life" (as it's simply called in acts) are helping me to see Christ anew. The cross is growing less in my thinking from a gilded icon at the front of church, to something very personal and very real. I'm finding that community is one of God's greatest gifts to the church. In fact it was the intent of the church. A body held together by Christ.
As I gear up to write for youth with Student Venture, I have to keep in mind that the most common understanding among young people of religion is that it's moralistic, therapeutic, and deistic. I think we've added to this false religion (I know I have) the idea that it's simply personal.
We all hope that the body of Christ would attract and reach out to a hurting world. Being good, or looking good, has just the opposite effect. For in hiding we're not being truly good and in looking good we simply look ugly. May God grant that we be a church that is full of what a friend shared with me recently, "fierce repenters," so that Satan's schemes are undermined and broken people come to taste from the only true fountain of grace: not outward religion, but Jesus Christ.