Of late I’ve been ruminating about a relationship that failed in 2001, and that collapse was connected to our respective and conflicting philosophies about the ultimate purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ.
My then-girlfriend wanted to marry me but, in the process, for us to attend her church, which happened to be across the street from where she lived, as a family (she had three sons by previous marriages), insisting that people should attend church in their own neighborhoods. Trouble was, I did visit once on a Sunday morning — I’m in the music ministry at my large, metropolitan church, which I would eventually join officially, and had that week off — and, at that service, received word from the LORD not to go there.
I would soon learn just why — based on a number of situations that she couldn’t see but I couldn’t miss, I discerned that her church harbored some latent racism that would likely have flared up had I begun going. (My own church, where I still attend, had already addressed that issue beforehand and is now “rainbow.”)
You see, she apparently believed, and probably still does believe, that the primary purpose of the local assembly was to maintain “traditional” morals and values and thus perpetuate itself and its own standing in this world. I believe that to be wrong.
The church exists to bear witness to a world that’s generally unseen as things stand now but will eventually be clear to all. It doesn’t — or, at least, shouldn’t — operate according to the world’s value system and thus has no reason to perpetuate itself as such and live by that; it should take its orders directly from the LORD.
This is not to say, of course, that it can’t do diaconal or prophetic ministry; indeed, it should but only to His glory, never for the sake of its own name. Helping the poor, ministering to the suffering and challenging the powers that be are good and necessary but only in the context of the ultimate message, “Hey, world, we get it right, and here’s why.”
I heard that one of the local suburban megachurches held a Fourth of July celebration with films of flying military aircraft and American servicemen (and women) literally marching through the sanctuary. The message was clear — we’re strong because of our military.
I can understand folks wanting to do that, but such demonstrations don’t belong in a church. Yes, we Christians are soldiers in one sense but don’t use that kind of weaponry; the first Christians, among other things, refused to serve in the Roman army due to what they considered emperor worship. Indeed, saying “Jesus is LORD” was often tantamount to a death sentence because they were operating from a higher perspective.
And it’s that “higher perspective” that the church needs more now than ever, as the “good news” that Jesus brought was one of reconciliation — first, with God through His death and resurrection and, second, with each other. Were these two items made paramount the rest will fall into place, because the world has no answer to that, which is what makes us distinct and without which the values and morals that we often promote have no ultimate meaning.
I left the above-mentioned relationship when I realized that I’d never be the spiritual leader of that household — I would lead it into a place where the rest didn’t want to go. It was less about a local church than God’s intent as to what He wants from His followers, to which I was, and still am, committed. I figured it was better to be single than betray the LORD by marrying someone not willing to conform to that unseen world.