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Church--What Good Is It?


Willaims River, Monongahela National Forest, Webster County, West Virginia D-04-1986 Thomas R. Fletcher

            Church attendance in the United States is down several percentage points from just a few years ago. Eighty percent of recorded church membership growth comes not from new converts but from transfers among denominations. Evangelism is stagnant. Ninety-six percent of Americans claim to believe in God, but apparently it is a god of their own design, a god that does not demand loyalty or make any demands upon one's time. The church is losing its influence upon society. Every person is doing that which is right in his own eyes. Many are questioning the relevance of the church in today's society.
            In all honesty, I too, question the relevance of the church. A church is doing no good when the attendees all wear pasted-on smiles and say, "All is well, praise God." Meanwhile, their lives are falling apart. A church is doing no good when a person admits a problem and he or she is looked upon as being less of a Christian. Too many local churches are proclaiming a mixture of biblical truth and personal opinions, some of which are quite weird. Unfortunately, the unconverted have no idea where biblical truth ends and personal opinion begins, and the entire amalgamation is rejected. Those congregations flatter themselves that they are being "persecuted for righteousness' sake." The reality is, they have been rejected for weirdness' sake.
            Sometimes, I think we draw our lines of acceptance so tightly that we would disqualify the Pharisees of Jesus' day. Church should be a place where the masks come off, yet all too often, it is a place where they are held firmly in place.
            The reality is we are all flawed. All lives are touched by sin. We all face struggles and temptations. We hunger for real relationships wherein we may honestly discuss our struggles and still find acceptance. Why go to a place where one feels compelled to act as though life were perfect? People aren't looking for more fakery; the world is filled with posturing poseurs. Nobody wants to find more of them in what should be a spiritual setting. Neither are people looking for someone to point out their flaws. They know them all too well.
            We live in a society that idolizes the image of the rugged individual who stands alone against all odds. Broken, lonely, hurting people don't align very well with that image, So we wear our masks. This idol of individualism has caused untold needless pain and suffering in the lives of those who uphold it. We risk too much if we show weakness. We risk too much if we admit we need others. We risk being judged. We risk being rejected. So we maintain our relationships at the surface level to avoid the scrutiny of others. It also helps us not to know too much about others. It could get messy; we might be asked to help someone face a problem.
            The superficiality of it all, coupled with the impression that the church wants your money to keep the wheels turning with no purpose other than keeping the wheels turning, raises valid questions of relevance. While it is true that the church needs programs and buildings to carry out its function, those are not to be the focus of her efforts. People are to be the focus.
            It is too easy to think of "the church" in abstract terms. We may think of the church as an institution. We need to think of the church in concrete terms. It is not the buildings, not the institution, not only the religious professionals, but individual Christians who make up the church. Ultimately, the church's bad behavior is an indictment upon us all. Any problem with the church is in reality a problem with us, the individual Christians, for we are "the called out ones." We may not be directly contributing to a situation, but are we doing anything to correct the problem? We need to be what we expect the church to be: caring, compassionate and merciful. I can't point my finger at the church without examining my life. Am I critical and judgmental of others? Am I contributing to the surface-level relationships that exist? Am I extending my hand in fellowship to lonely, hurting people? We need to stick to the Bible and leave our personal opinions out of the mixture. God's word is quite sufficient.
            The church is made up of sinners reclaimed by God who in turn, are to offer God's reclamation to other sinners, without judgment or criticism. God calls believers out of the world to be a "called out community" to nurture and support one another. We are entrusted with the proclamation of his truth. As recipients of his grace, he now calls us to dispense that grace to others. Yet far too often, church members are known more for their biting criticism than their loving kindness. We are to welcome sinners in need of grace, for so we were and are we all.
            Fellow Christians are family members -- brothers and sisters in Christ. He expects us to care for one another and to be a part of a body of believers, the local church, the social structure of his design. A true Christian, if he or she is to be a biblical Christian, must have a part in a local congregation that assembles together for worship and service to God. It is in the local congregation that we send down deep roots -- roots that support and strengthen one another. We have strength in such a community that we can never have on our own. The church isn't perfect. No local congregation is. The reason being, it is made up of flawed individuals.
            However, we can all work to make our local church more of what God wants it to be by our being what God wants us to be as individuals. Cut out the judgmental attitudes. Get rid of the pettiness. When the world sees these things within us, we are obscuring its view of Christ. As we hold forth the word of life in love, as we become a loving body of believers, nurturing and caring for one another, the church will be relevant to society. People will know the Great Comforter is in our midst.  


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