Where Is the Church?

I don’t think we take the church nearly serious enough. Not even close. Church is still just a place we go to on Sundays to fulfill some sort of empty void that we only really know exists because we were born with that routine implanted in us as kids. Church is still just a room full of people that pat themselves on the back because their morals are somehow just and proper, or at least more than the Muslims. Church is still just a waste of time in all. I wonder if we are doing ourselves a disservice? Throwing a bunch of people in a room once a week who all claim to believe the same things with their words and then calling that the church? It’s got to be a joke. Is it really helping? The church is no different then the society around them. They might not swear as much. They might not drink as much. They might feel extra bad when they look at porn. But come on. We are no different. Where the hell is the church that actually lives out lives committed to Jesus that calls into question the values, traditions and routines of the society that it finds itself in? It’s not in North America. Where is the church that faces into injustice by living justly? I don’t see it that often. How does putting all these people in a room together once a week do anything more than perpetuate a sense of superiority and accomplishment?

We the church are not the church. We want to be. We call ourselves the church, but we are not. Let’s not fool ourselves. But listen, I don’t think we are without hope. I just don’t want to lie to myself anymore. It’s coming. I see hints of it here and there. I do think we can do it. But we can’t do it if we want to hold on to everything that North America deems as important. We cannot be the church and hold on to our money, savings accounts, retirement funds, consumerist obsessions, big houses, vacations, packed schedules, video games, celebrities and mindless entertainment. We cannot be the church if we sleep fine at night while the gap between the rich and poor grows and we are firmly planted on the winning team. We cannot be the church if we point at those who struggle and tell them that it’s their problem. We cannot be the church if we refuse to take the side of the oppressed and disenfranchised and the failures and the lazy.

If we want to be the church, we need to be different. Not different because it’s cool, but different because being the same is the is not the church. The church needs to redefine what it looks like to live. The need to experiment and expand and create and exemplify new ways of living that show the world what it looks like to live under god’s reign. This means everything from adopting children to gardening to fasting video games (and all the other things that enslave us and our kids) to giving away all our wealth. The church in some places does this. There is hints of it rising up all over the place. It’s just not here. North America is slow. The church here is slow because we love what we have. We aren’t in any rush to change it. I constantly find myself caught between what I know we should be and what I want, and I don’t really find the church to be a great support structure for encouraging each other to get better.

From a Christian point of view, the world needs the church, not to help the world run more smoothly or to make the world a better and safer place for Christians to live. Rather, the world needs the church because, without the church, the world does not know who it is. The only way for the world to know that it is being redeemed is for the church to point to the Redeemer by being a redeemed people. The way for the world to know that it needs redeeming, that it is broken and fallen, is for the church to enable the world to strike hard against something which is an alternative to what the world.
– Hauerwas and Willimon

The ethical stance of these early Christians, with their peculiar beliefs about money, was a concrete application of their theological assertions. The church was called to be a colony, an alternative community, a sign, a signal to the world that Christ had made possible a way of life together unlike anything the world had seen.
– Hauerwas and Willimon

Resident Aliens by Hauerwas and Willimon got me excited about the church. What an excellent book. I just want to be the church and stop being a coward. I’m a chicken. I don’t want to give up my aspirations. I don’t want to focus on relationships over my goals. I need to though. I need help. I need to be part of this church. I want to be part of it. Where is it? Cause I’m not it.

13 Comments

  • Hey Nathan,

    I really appreciated some of the things you had to say in this post (or blog, or whatever it is that the kids are calling it these days). I liked your statements about “adopting and gardening”. I liked those statements because they are quieter, long-term investment type of activities.

    I think peoples frustration with the church is legitimate, but because we’re North American, we’re loud, and obnoxious, and bombastic. And our Chrisitian complaining has become the same. We expect the Kingdom to break forth through loud, bombastic changes, but that’s immature and naive. Somehow with think Jesus is only moving in grandiose ways, but that’s not reality. That’s not maturity. Maturity is recognizing the small and simple ways that Jesus is transforming us and the world we live in, and walking in those. Daily. Weekly. Monthly. Yearly. That’s the church. That’s the Kimgdom coming here on earth. I don’t know that it has to be as big and loud as we would initially like to see it. But I think that’s the church. Simpler. Quieter. Seeds germinating.

    Again, some great thoughts in here.

    Trev

  • Yes, you are right on, and I think that is part of my struggle, I struggle with my immaturity and just wanting things to happen and be fixed and for us to just change overnight, I struggle with wanting out church plant to just happen and be awesome, and I’m not patient, living in that incompleteness is very difficult, but like you said, the church is also called to go at it in the maticulous slow way because that’s how God works many times, so I need to learn to settle the heck down and not get so down on the people that I am part of.

    Thanks for commenting Trev, rock on.

  • Nathan – Amazing post!

    I agree with you, and have a hard time pushing the everyday routine and norm aside to focus on aspirations/dreams to help those with less… when in reality they should be my primary focus in life. I’m not patience either and am definitely a coward as well.

    One question that comes to my mind is: how can we begin in a practical way to throw societal views/pressures out of sight and start living as ordinary radicals on a daily basis?

  • I have no idea Laura – no idea :) but some ideas come to mind like re-envisioning baptism/confirmation for evangelical churches, living in intentional communities, practicing spiritual disciplines to learn the patience like trevor mentioned, find mentors of folks that do live in ways that we see as wise.

  • “re-envisioning baptism/confirmation for evangelical churches” – what do you mean by this?

    gd

    • I think the evangelical church needs to take some cues from the mainline churches and help bring more meaning to baptism/dedication/confirmation. Maybe bring back catechism and really work harder and more creative and passing our faith down to our children. We (and the mainline churches) obviously have failed pretty bad at doing this because churches have very few young adults compared to how many children we have, so I don’t want to just repeat what has been done, but I do think that creating a stronger identity for who the church is and what her role in the world and passing that onto our children in a way that gives them responsibility and ownership will be invaluable in world where individualistic and consumeristic values win.

  • Thanks for explaining further.

    I also think things like Baptism and Communion should be very serious things to consider before doing.
    I’m not sure if I am saying you need to be an adult to partake…but I think you need to really know what/why you are doing these things – it took me until I was 30 to get baptized and I was asked initially in highschool. Even though I wasn’t living a Christian life then…I still knew it wasn’t right to get baptized so that Grandma would be proud.

    • Yes, I agree. At the very least we need to be serious as parents when we baptize our children, depending on which side of tradition you fall on. Which then makes confirmation a very serious endeavour for the adult. Which is why I think that coinciding with baptism/confirmation should be catechism in however that looks like for that community, whether it be classes, mentorship….but something that the community offers for folks that are about to make a decision so they are making informed and supported decisions.

  • I love it when your passion pours out in your writing like this Nathan.

    I hear 3 key items in your blog post, is a Sunday gathering worth anything anymore? Where is the Church? Why aren’t we more revolutionary in our lives?

    You rightfully call us all out for imagining that a weekly gathering is enough for any of us to be the Church. We know that’s not new though, many of us have been shouting for years that the building is not the Church, the meeting is not Church, WE are the Church.

    But why gather? I think for many reasons, but for me, it mostly comes down to the simple fact that we humans are creatures of habit. The people I see most often are the people I will interact with more. If you go to my school, if you live in my neighbourhood/village, if you work with me, if we play on a team together, if you join my family then you are someone I see, someone I intersect with and you become part of my community.

    If you leave any of those, I don’t see you and experience tells me most of those relationships will fade. So I will choose to find opportunities to gather with people I would like to be in community with. It’s the first step that allows relationships to even begin. Hopefully we won’t limit our community opportunities to only those that share some very narrowly similar world views, but for me, even the most “unsuccessful” Sunday gatherings are still a conscious effort to be around people I am or would like to be more in community with.

    You punch hardest with where is the Church that can claim to be living out the values the Church proclaims. I can only sheepishly agree and hope I too can learn to be a part of it.

    And where is the revolution? Well, I don’t want to say you’re off base here, because we need some revolutionary thoughts and actions at times, but I’m not sure we need to “fight” everything just to be different. If everyone is a revolutionary, then no one is a revolutionary. Sometimes I believe the church will look just like the world, but with peace and justice and love their central theme as they decide what to save for, commit resources to allow themselves to “retire” and dedicate more time to community building, build space to share with others, extend their community beyond the small borders close to them, fill their schedule with people that can impact and be impacted by them and even take time to relax and laugh together for no reason at all.

    I guess I’m saying I don’t want to “fight” “North America”, I definitely want to be a better North American though, I’d like to be part of that Church we’re talking about.

  • John, I appreciate your last sentence quite a bit, I tend to agree with you. (i appreciate all you wrote, but the last sentence really struck me).

    Here is my issue with living like that. I think we become to passive and then unconsciously fall into habits that don’t and shouldn’t mark the church unless we are adamantly opposed to certain kinds of living. I don’t mean that we have to change that about the world and make them change, but I mean we have to change it about ourselves and “fight” the world that is within the church. And by fight I don’t mean just have lists of rules and morals but be consciously aware of what we are not so we are free to be who we should be. Which might mean writing posts like this and naming the ways where we fall short so its exposed and we can continue to be a community of people that model being an alternative community not just people that look like the world but who care about justice instead of themselves.

    So I don’t know, is the answer to just be better? I think it is, and that at least gives me some hope, but I think that maybe the only way to be better is to fight out the mediocre and worse out of our lives. Yay? Nay?

  • Hey Nathan,

    Read this quote this morning, thought it was somewhat pertinent to the discussion above:

    “To show great love for God and our neighbor we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God.” – Mother Teresa

    Trev

  • Relationship over goals…well said!

  • I’ve just begun reading Resident Aliens. Already it’s shaking things up in my neat and tidy little world.

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