I love church.
I have loved everything about it, almost my whole life. I have loved the people, the comfort and security, the total dynamic represented in the mainstream American church. I have, in my possession, a little pink New Testament with my name and date of birth lovingly inscribed inside the front cover, no doubt, by some precious nursery worker from the Dalewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. I carried that little Bible, faithfully, every Sunday to church, dressed in my nicest dress, hair curled, white stockings and patent leather Mary Janes. My Sunday school teachers loved me and I loved them. We learned about the children of Israel in the desert, Christ and the disciples, how to be ‘born again’ and to tell all of our friends about Jesus.
The thing I loved the most about church was the rules. As a small child, I was desperate to please because I was desperate for love and attention. One of my greatest fears was not knowing precisely what was expected of me. I was extremely sensitive to the needs and feelings of others and how that related to my intense hunger for affirmation. Church was the one place where I was certain of being told what to do. Safe within the secure confines of sweet fascist bliss, we dwelt in total and enthusiastic sameness.
fas·cism [fá shìzzəm]n dictatorial movement: any movement, ideology, or attitude that favors dictatorial government, centralized control of private enterprise, repression of all opposition, and extreme nationalism
Now, before we get our collective panties in a wad, let’s get a few things straight. I saw the Jesus movement and all the lunatic fringe that accompanied it–this isn’t like that. I have witnessed the ugliness of maverick, pseudo-prophetics and the devastation left in its wake–this isn’t like that. I’m familiar with relativism and new age theology–this isn’t like that. I’ve even explored the basic mechanisms that led to and promoted the existential ideology which has completely saturated modern western thought and society at every level–this isn’t like that, either. I’m merely suggesting that we take an unbiased look at the way we’ve come to understand Christianity in regard to corporate worship, personal evangelism, and private practice. I realize that these are sacred cows for most of us. It seems so wrong and yet it feels so right. Not that we should base every move of God on our feelings, but neither should we completely disregard this most inherent of coping tools. He speaks in a still, small voice and our feelings, oftentimes, wire the amps.
Why am I like this? Why do I do the things I do and feel the way I feel? Brother Paul asked the same questions. Romans 7 is very heavy. Read it. We all struggle with the same things and apply the same remedies. Is this really working? God’s love is offered freely as the cure for every ailment, physical and spiritual.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
But do we truly avail ourselves of it? Love requires exploration, action and commitment. Most of us would rather have a band-aid. We’d like to label it as ‘sin’ and move on. It’s a distraction, it’s an attack, it’s this, it’s that. We just want to look like the rest of the herd, quietly grazing and all facing the same direction. Where’s the fun in that?
Look, I didn’t wake up this morning and say to myself, “Hey, I think I’ll offend and alienate everybody, today.” Quite the contrary, my deepest desire is for unity among brothers. We love to talk about freedom and love, but when it comes right down to it, those are the things that frighten us the most in ourselves and in each other. We’ve been waiting for so long and now the new wine is ready for distribution. The old wineskins cannot hold it.
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” Luke 5: 37-39
Did you catch the end, there? We like our old wine, our old songs, our old way of doing things. Of course, we don’t throw out what God has done in the past. Everything He does and says is unshakeable. I’m talking about all the junk that we’ve built up around it. All of that stuff shakes plenty. God didn’t make all those rules, we did. Rules get in the way. Love God and love each other, I can’t say it enough. I don’t even think it’s a rule. It’s a standard, it’s a lifestyle. Jesus lived it and offended almost everybody. Love is honest, sometimes invasive. It’s messy and unorganized and it tears down everything that isn’t built on the Rock. What’s left is people, in all of our messy and disorganized splendor. That’s who Jesus left in charge. Love it, hate it, that’s the church.