Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Church is bigger...

One of the common traits of a certain subset of Christians (and I can't quite put my finger on who these folks would be; emerging/emergents? Post-Evangelicals?) is that they have come to the realization (at some point in their journey of faith) that "the Church is bigger than ____ " (insert subtle jab at a/the local church). They then proceed to unpack how that realization has led them to the enlightened, though slightly disenfranchised, place where they now are. Often, what follows is the suggestion that, if other Christians would open their eyes to the same realization, they too would be freed of the bondage that is the local church, or denominational affiliation, or organized Christianity in any form.

I "get" where these folks are coming from, because having one's eyes opened to something one was unaware of can be striking and can even present a true paradigm-shift. I also understand how some of the more prominent voices among the "slightly disenfranchised" have come to where they are through many years of wrestling and struggle; and frankly, most of these guys, though slightly disenfranchised, are not openly "giving up on the local church" nor are they overtly encouraging others to do so.

But I'm troubled by how some-- especially, it seems, the avid followers of the more prominent folks-- are more actively and adamantly pursuing
their conclusions toward a proselytic end. To these dear ones, I'd like to offer a few pastoral comments in response:
  • First, it is wonderful that you have become aware that Christianity is "bigger" than the local church that was, otherwise, the summation of your church experience up to that point. Be careful, though, not to eschew your local church simply because it doesn't represent the whole of Christianity. It never pretended to. Perhaps you assumed that it did at one point, but whose fault is that? Should a Physicist, who could now teach his 9th grade Algebra teacher a thing or two, write off that Algebra class as irrelevant-- and the teacher as an oppressor? Should he assume that his Algebra teacher didn't know all that he does, simply because she didn't teach it to him? Just because there is more to something doesn't mean that a partial expression of it is inherently bad. Remember: that local church that you are so quickly writing off has likely been responsible for much of the spiritual shepherding and discipleship that has brought you to where you are.
  • Second, just as the Church is bigger than the local expression of it as you have realized, so too Christianity (and the Church) is more than just you and your experiences and gathered wisdom. Your assertion that you don't need the local church has no foundation in the Bible. Your assumptions that others are naïve or deceived, or even part of the deception, suggest a spiritual pride that is dangerous. Please be careful that you don't pick and choose which portions of Scripture you will accept as relevant to shaping your image of what Christianity and the Church must be; those other parts that inconveniently speak so clearly about the local church are important, too.
  • Finally: you're not the only one who realizes that the "Church is bigger than..." Some others of us know that, too-- and yet we're also somehow still committed to the local church. We're not necessarily less self-honest, less aware, less intelligent, or less thoughtful than you are. Yet we love the local church. How does that fit into your realizations and assumptions? In fact, through 2000 years of Church history, Christianity has found expression primarily through the local church. Were all of our spiritual ancestor simply wrong-- or could your understanding simply (and potentially) represent another step in the direction of advancing the Kingdom?

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