Quite an impressive edifice, is it not? Likely to inspire reverential behaviour once one steps inside and views soaring ceilings, elaborate altars and sacred icons. Surely God must be in this place? Not necessarily.
I heard a piece on the radio (Christian station) this morning. It seems a family, including a teenage daughter and son, were attending a church service. Now this particular church had a "no technology" rule, where attendees were to turn off all electronic devices during the service. Apparently this family hadn't heard the rule, or were simply ignoring it. The son was engaged with texting messages on his cell phone throughout the service, while the daughter sat listening to her iPod. Neither one was paying the least bit of attention to the sermon; it was obvious that they did not want to even be there, and quite a number of people were aware of their being "plugged in", but not to what was going on around them. After the service, the family was told, gently and with respect, about the rule. Now the pastor and church are burdened because the family has not been back since.
After this story was told, the two radio announcers had a dialogue about it. Should they have been reminded about the rule? Should there even be a rule? Would it not be better for some kids, even if they have to be dragged there, to allow them their toys, because at least they would be in the building? Even if they don't hear the message (sermon), they might just somehow get something out of the setting, if only hearing bits and pieces of hymns, etc. Now I ask you, is that not a pathetic premise?
What have we, as Christ's body, evolved to, that we think we have to bring people into a "church" building to hear the gospel? Do we think that once through the doors, certain mystical forces will take over and they will somehow "absorb" truth, or God's love, or the conviction of the Holy Spirit? Do we need to drag people into a religious building, to the "experts" (pastors etc.) to learn about God? How sad.
I went to a church service yesterday, first one in two and a half years. I went with my home church group to support a granddaughter of one of the couples in the group. We stayed for the "worship" portion (it was the granddaughter's first time on the worship team) and announcements, then left to go and have our home meeting and fellowship meal. One of the announcements was about a movie night coming up at the church. It was an outreach event, apparently a "no pressure" thing, and all were welcome. There was to be no "bait and switch." It was simply an opportunity to bring people from the community to the building, a welcoming gesture. Another item was addressed to parents of the younger children. They were asked to accompany them to their class, where they would be instructed and encouraged in how to be teaching and discipling their children at home.
I am saddened to see that we have reduced being Christ's body on earth to needing buildings, and programs, and paid professionals to fulfill the mandate of being ambassadors of reconciliation and makers of disciples. That we have worship teams to "lead" us into singing hymns and choruses on a Sunday morning, and consider that our duty done in the worshipping of God department. That we judge one another according to which denomination we belong to, and consider those who don't attend many services, or become involved in church "ministry" to be as "spiritual" as others who do. That we can't train our children up in the fear of the Lord with only God's word and the Holy Spirit to help us. That we can't simply BE Jesus to those around us; our neighbours, family, friends and co-workers.
God no longer resides in a building. He has dwelt in a tent, a pillar of cloud and fire, a temple, and in His Son here on earth. Now He lives in His people!!!! In human beings!!! We carry Jesus with us wherever we go. We have His mind, His Spirit, and His power available to us. We are vessels of His mercy and grace, and our reasonable worship (service) is to present our entire bodies, our entire lives, to Him for His use. Yes, every one of us will agree to these truths, but we have tried to live them out through programs, and traditions, and legalism. In essence, we have made feeble substitutions for them when there is no need to. Blinded and numbed by centuries of tradition and religion, we have morphed into a worldly "institution" instead of a living, breathing body that is functioning by the power of the Holy Spirit, and joined (effectively) to its Head.
I don't intend to put people down in these comments. I was part of the Christian "system" too. For years I tried to do all the right things, and ended up in such a conflict of heart that I had to walk away from all things "institutional". But there is something terribly wrong with how we go about being Christ's church in this part of the world. When He said He would build it, He wasn't referring to a structure made with actual physical materials. He was referring to people, to souls, to an army of believers that He could live in and through. Let's give Him back His church, and let go of our "Christian" props and scripts. Let's be real, and let Christ be real in us.
Jesus, we are Your people, a people for Your own possession, to show forth Your glory here on earth. Lead us back to the place where You can live through us. Cut away every artificial aspect and man made tradition that quenches Your Spirit in us. We are sheep that need a Shepherd, a strong hand to guide. For your Name's sake. Amen.