That's a pretty long list. I'm almost 47 years old, and I've been in church since before I was born. Over the last 47 years, then, I've been connected to 17 churches. That averages out to a different church every 2.76470588 years. You don't need a seminary degree, a MBA, or even a high school education to conclude along with me that my church experience has been unhealthy - or irregular - at best. From childhood, I learned that to be part of a church means to be part of a conflict. The first conflict I was exposed to as a child was between the preacher and the minister of music, along with those who felt the need to "join a camp." The enemy hasn't come up with any new tricks, it seems, because in every church I've ever been a part of (with only a few exceptions) a battle has raged in some form between a "music camp" and a "preaching/teaching camp." Some of the churches have split over the issues. Others have remained intact but divided. At least one has ceased to exist.
Looking back over the list of churches, I remember conflicts over speaking in tongues, morality, power, liberalism, racism, ego, staff, teaching, style, deacons, personnel issues, false theology, and more. I cannot remember any brokenness over the lost in our society, the struggle in families, the hopelessness of people wandering around like sheep without a Shepherd. I'm not saying that the brokenness didn't exist. It's just that the conflicts were so strong that they overshadow the work that God might have been trying to accomplish. I also don't remember any attacks on the church from outside of the church. They all came from those within the body.
Don't stop reading yet. There are some notable exceptions, and over the next few posts, I hope to do justice to many beautiful portraits of the body of Christ that I have experienced. For tonight, though, let's just consider that of the 17 organizations that I have been connected with bearing the label of a "fellowship of called out ones," the actual number of biblical churches seems small. Again, that is not to say that within the organizations there are not remnants of people who make up a "fellowship of called out ones." Actually, in every church I have been a part of I can highlight those who made up a biblical church.
This time of year takes me back to a time twice in my life when the Lord has called me away from a full time ministry within the institutional church to living a life on mission as what those within the church call a lay person. I looked the word up, and it simply means someone who is involved but not part of a specific profession. People asked me on both occasions if I was "quitting the ministry." My answer has been the same, and it sounds something like "God's calling on my life isn't tied to getting my paycheck from the church. If the Lord wants to finance His mission through me by using a secular organization, who am I to question Him?" The answer is true and biblical. It just may not be complete. I never quit the ministry. I believe instead that God has so much more work to do in me to make me a true Kingdom expander. A lot of my past still has to find it's rightful place. Skepticism needs to be repackaged. Walls still need some doors and windows for people to access.
I love the body of Christ. Being part of a group of people who love the Lord ignites something in me that I cannot explain. More than anything, experiencing the mending and molding of families into Christlikeness takes me deep into the heart of God for His people. Seeing the body of Christ abused and mistreated makes me angry. Jesus died for His bride, and what we as His people have done to her is inexcusable. I pray for God's mercy, knowing that along with others, I have too often been involved in discussions and activities that did more to diminish God's glory that radiate God's glory.
Tomorrow morning, many who wear the label "Christian" will wake up, get dressed up, and "attend church." For many, the experience is simply an attendance. For others, the experience is an opportunity to engage with other Christ followers. We will all pass by many buildings of various names that have one word in common on their sign. CHURCH. As I read the words of Christ to the churches of Revelation along with God's word to Ezekiel in the Old Testament, I am reminded that the name on the sign is not always reflective of what is happening inside the building. God will not share His glory with anyone or any institution. May we all find the opportunity to be part of a "fellowship of called out ones" that is a foreshadowing of Revelation 19:6-9. John writes,
"Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure for the fine linien is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
I pray along with Jesus, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
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