I just feel like this might need said now more than ever… Church, we need each other! (Feel free to ignore this post, if you are not a Christian, because it doesn’t apply to you… church gatherings are for, well, the Church, not the rest of the world).
In a time of civil unrest, an impending election that might and very likely will result in destruction and chaos, in the dangers of both a virus and the implosion of our Constitution, the division that comes from fearing one of those more than the other and reacting accordingly, etc., etc., etc. we are ill-equipped to walk this out alone.
I have spent years of my life empathizing with those with sob stories of how the Church has wounded people, and they just can’t bring themselves to go back. I have listened to a friend tell me how their Christ-hating spouse (who is no longer alive, by the way), made the experience of going to church so miserable that she has PTSD from it, and can’t possibly overcome the anxiety she feels associated with going to church on Sunday mornings (this same friend is a widow who needs emotional and physical care, and the burden largely falls on me, rather than being dispersed throughout a congregation, like it was intended to, because of her refusal to connect with the larger group). I have seen the demise of marriages, due to Christians thinking they have enough strength to walk this out on their own, and that they are superior to other Christians, so they have no need. These same Christians always seem to get slowly, spiritually devoured. I see it coming, but they don’t want to hear the warning blast about how they need the Church or they’re not going to make it. I have also watched people walk away from their faith, for the same reason.
If anyone gets it, I do. I could write chapters expounding on the side-eyed looks we got from Christians, especially when we were traveling the country, or the bully of a pastor we had in California, or the neglectful one out here, both of which cost our family dearly. My family has suffered more than most from abuse and neglect and judgment at the hand of other Christians.
But we also love the Church more than just about anyone I know.
I want to tell you about a moment that changed our life forever. A moment at a worship leaders conference, somewhere in the early 2000’s, where a young, zealous man told Smiles, with all the exuberance of a child at Disneyland, “Man, I LOVE the Church! Jesus LOVES the Church! Jesus DIED for the Church!” And that was that. How could I criticize what Jesus cherished enough to died for?
From that point on, our vision was corrected, and some of our pride demolished. No longer did I think I was better. I began to realize that even the rough edges of other Christians were meant for my refining. And that I had rough edges, too, that needed sanded off by living in community. I realized that people have issues, but that doesn’t mean I should crawl in a hole and live out my days in isolation.
I also realized that, for all those issues, the Church is actually the most gloriously beautiful thing we can catch glimpse of. For every abusive pastor, there’s another one out there who is loving, humble, wise and kind (trust me, we’ve got one!). For every Christian who has wounded you, remember conflicts only get resolved when dealt with, and the “other guy” isn’t the only sinful human in the equation. Perhaps the conflict can be redeemed, and you can both walk away better people for having worked through it.
For every one of you who professes to love Jesus, but thinks you can hang better on your own, I’m telling you flat-out, you’re wrong. We need each other, or we just aren’t strong enough to survive and thrive. If you say you love God and hate your brother, you’re a liar (1 John 4:20).
There’s a reason why not a single person has every spiritual gift. It’s because we’re made to complete each other. There’s a reason why none of us have a full knowledge of God. It’s because we’re supposed to share what we’ve learned and grow together. And for everyone who is trying to deal with hard circumstances (which is pretty much everyone right now), and you think you can handle it solo, you’ve got way too much confidence in yourself. What you need is a tribe of Christians, who will lift your eyes to see God, and your hands in battle.
Besides, isn’t the world supposed to know that we belong to Him because of our love for one another (John 13:35)?
If you don’t think this virus is a political war, I want you to ponder for just a moment, which gatherings were most intensely attacked. You were allowed to burn down cities, but you couldn’t go to church, especially not if you planned on worshipping God with your voice. There’s a reason why the enemy of our souls is out to divide the Church (not just separate us from weekly gatherings, but cause us to judge each other over our responses, and live in fear of one another). It’s because the Church is the most powerful force on earth!
Observe the peace-increase of those who continued to gather throughout this spectacle of a year vs. those who either a) kept aloof from the Church already, or b) thought online services were an adequate substitute. I am sure some of you are judging me for this, because in your mind the virus is the greatest threat, and gathering as a Church is so “dangerous”. But the bigger threat is isolation.
I’m not telling you that if you have some pre-existing health condition, so you stay home and watch sermons online, you are sinning. God forbid I judge your conscience, regarding your own health and safety, and there’s a big difference between exercising wisdom and discernment vs. living in fear, or thinking you are better than everyone else Jesus came to die for. This post is much bigger that that. My frustrations didn’t start this year, but I think they might need said more than ever, considering that many who used to gather have become apathetic about it, in the past 8 months or so. Online sermons might serve as a temporary substitute for hearing the Bible expounded on, but they can’t substitute genuine, authentic community.
I’m sorry if I sound frustrated… but I am. And it’s not because I think I’m better. It’s because I know I’m not. It’s because I used to justify condemning the Church, and keeping myself aloof, and realize now how gracious God was to transform my arrogant heart, and I just want Him to do that for everyone. I am frustrated because I am watching friends go down like a burning torch. I am frustrated because I love the Church! I want the Body of Christ to be strengthened, in a year when we are being chipped away at, weakened, divided, and sifted.
Some of us are being strengthened! But I’m only seeing it in those who value the refuge and fortress of the Church.
I am watching this world go down like a sinking ship. I am watching us lose our freedom to gather, while people hide behind self-pity, legitimate hurts that have turned into illegitimate bitterness, and in the shadow of a fear-pushing political system meant to divide and conquer God’s people. There is a ravenous enemy prowling like a lion, seeking to devour God’s people. And you know who the most susceptible sheep are? Those who wander from the flock.
“Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord. I have no good besides You. As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” (Psalm 16:1-3)