"Church is a club."
I have heard that statement made numerous times and did not want to believe that it was true. The church often has a club mentality with dues, membership roster, roll call, taking of minutes, doing of "business," yet rarely a plenary session. The members are part of the club not for the benefit of the club itself but because of the vanity of its members. Being part of the club is something that looks good or makes the member of the club appealing because membership is based on what that club offers; this then becomes how the church also is evaluated.
The attitude of the Christians who are part of that church then becomes, "How do I make my church (club) appealing?" Hence, why many people will ride past eight to ten churches to get to the church that is "right" for them. I am not saying that it isn't right to find the church that fits. What I am saying is that this fosters an isolationist mentality that is neither healthy nor biblical.
Often clubs become an ideal place for bragging on one's accomplishments. Clubs can be mutual admiration societies, more concerned about how well one has done at a particular thing or preening over goals having been met. Rarely are struggles ever discussed because that would make one look ineffective or sub-standard--not worthy of the club. Struggles and pain are virtually non-existent in clubs, unless you're part of a club that celebrates failure.
I've never heard of one of those. Failure however is a very real part of life. I have failed on numerous occasions and I have also lived through making up for those failures. The fact is, the church isn't very welcoming to those who have failed. We need a Gospel that speaks to failure and a church willing to embrace people whose lives have been shattered by failure.
Lay down my life for someone else? Esteem someone better than me? Look out after another's interests rather than my own? Owe a debt of love to someone? Not in a club. The club is all about self-congratulation and self-aggrandizement. But the Christ that spent all calls us to spend all as well. That won't get us any accolades or pats on the back. Probably more suffering. Probably more heartache, and probably more tears.
Here is what is missing from churches: relationships. However, in our self-righteousness academies, we are too quick to point the fingers, assign blame, and start issuing the "bless his hearts" and allow the one who has failed to continue on in their failure--quite hypocritical. While we continue on, congratulating ourselves for how righteous we are and tickled that the "evil one has been purged from our midst."
One of the radical truths of the Gospel is that Christ is not so much a personal Savior, which we often emphasize (to the detriment of the Gospel itself), but a Savior of people. Individuals. With hopes, dreams, and failures. Placing the emphasis on Christ as a personal Savior leaves the potential believer with a sense of isolation--a sense of "what do I do next?" The marriage supper of the Lamb is not going to be a private affair.
But if we emphasize Christ as a Savior of people--real, live people, then the possibility of community exists--the possibility that someone will be with me in this. Someone who has failed cannot strike out on a new venture alone. They don't have the wherewithal. They need someone to commit to them in the same way Christ commits to them--sure, their eternity is secure, but what about the present? Not so much.
We all rejoice when the man who has failed miserably in life joins the church; when the mom who aborted her child makes a faith commitment to Christ; when the AIDS victim comes to the altar. Yet where are they in a few months? Christ is their portion, but no portion they have among the Body. The message that is often sent is one that Christ is your personal Savior and Christ can get dirty cleaning you up and fitting you for Body-life.
What then happens to that abandoned person when the time of testing and trial comes? Like the man who fell among thieves, he finds himself broken and bleeding hoping a Good Samaritan might come along.
My wife was in the hospital having had her third surgery in three months. Her back was sliced open, her kidney invaded, and an ultrasonic wand inserted to vibrate apart a stone the size of a quarter. But what a sad lesson we learned. Who from the church showed up to check on us? No one. Who followed up once we got home after two days of kidney spasms and muscle-relaxer induced stupor? Fixed a meal, offered to look after the kids? Not a soul.
We need each other. The Gospel is meant to be lived out in community. I want to conclude with this question: who out there is willing to walk with a heavily ladened, hurting person until healing comes in God's time? Who?
They will fall inevitably and we will lament, "Oh, what little faith so-and-so had!" "Oh, she must not have really been saved!" "How deceived the poor soul must have been!" "Bless her heart."
The question probably won't be, "Well, what did I do to keep this from happening?" That just demands too much.