That is the closing question from Tim Stafford, senior editor of Christianity Today, in his latest article titled, “The Church, Why bother?”
As you may have noticed from my last post, the topic of community, and its relation to church has been on my mind a lot. Or more appropriately, our relationship to Christ, and the role that the church plays in that.
Without dissecting that too much, let me say a few things, taking off from a quote by the 3rd century bishop and martyr, Cyprian.
“YOU CANNOT have God for your Father unless you have the Church for your Mother.”
Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church
Obviously from this quote, it would appear that one cannot both be a Christian, and yet not seriously consider the role of the church body in your spiritual walk. Just as everyone has a mother and father, so is there also a link between you as a Christian and your churchgoing…your role in church community. And though some of us might not have an intact family of both mother and father, or though we might have a family that does not always get along, so it is with the church at times. But nonetheless, you are family. And nonetheless, as a Christian, you are part of the church family, in which you are a vital member of it’s body, as Paul so cleary demonstrates in I Cor. 12:12, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
Stafford, nor I would question a person’s authenticity in relation to their conversion, or salvific experience, but what would be questioned is one’s commitment to Christ, if he or she is not involved in a church body. A church body provides many things, from encouragement, to growth, to accountability, an avenue of worship, and on and on. These are things that one cannot attain, or hope to aspire to outside of a body of believers in the church.
Stafford says, “The church is the body of Christ, and it carries his wounds. To know Christ is to share in the fellowship of his sufferings–even if the suffering comes at the hands of the sinners who sit in the pews or preach from the pulpit.”
To skip out on church, so as to avoid pain, suffering, disappointment is impossible. But rather, as believers in Christ Jesus, we have the greatest potential to grow spiritually through the testing, and trying of our faith through enduring patience within the context of the church community. “Somehow long-suffering is appropriate to a place and a people who worship Jesus. ‘How could we experience him in his death,’ Lillian wants to know, ‘if we could not tolerate some little deaths of ourselves?'”
As Christians, we have the unique opportunity to be a light to the world around us by the way we not only live in peace and joy in community, but also by the way we live in strife, and suffering, and patience with one another. In the Four Loves, C.S. Lewis states CT ’03., “Nature cannot satisfy the desires she arouses nor answer theological questions nor sanctify us. Our real journey to God involves constantly turning our backs on her; passing from the dawn-lit fields into some pokey little church, or (it might be) going to work in an East End Parish.” There is something bigger out there, pulling us into something that may seem small, and rigid and cooped up, like a church, when in reality, church and the community within let’s us experience and fulfill our greatest desires of belonging, even though we may at times be disillusioned by the reality only we can see.
Bonhoeffer puts it this way CT ’03., “Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.”
These words seem very much like the words of most marriage counselors when a newly engaged couple arrives to their office. The couple may have all these lofty and unrealistic ideas and expectations of what a relationship should look and be like, without having even considered the hardwork and effort that is put into that relationship. In marriage, like in the church, we may expect a bed of roses and heaven on earth all the time, without realizing that those things are products of the hardwork, trials and suffering that are a part of the journey. For the counselor, this is their attempt to “burst the bubble” as they may put it, and help the couple correctly understand the greatest potential they have together when they understand the reality of all the hard work and joy and effort and happiness that is put into that relationship. With a correct understanding of disillusionment, where reality is put into context, greater potential is able to come to fruition. This is truly a movement from me, to we. And so this is often the case with our relationship with the church as well. A move more me in the church, to the we in the church.
In a CT article from June 23, 2003, titled “Suburban Spirituality, David Goetz states, “Disillusionment with one’s church, then, is not a reason to leave but a reason to stay and see what God will create in one’s life and in the local church. What I perceive to be my needsâ’I need a church with a more biblical preacher who uses specific examples from real life’âmay not correspond to my true spiritual needs.” CT ’03..
When we honestly reflect on our relationship with Jesus Christ, and the role our church community plays in that relationship, do we have a Gnostic faith as Tim Stafford states. “I would call it Gnostic faith. For them the spirit is completely separated from the body. They think your spirit can be with Jesus Christ while your body goes its own way.” Or, can we honestly reflect and say that their is an integration of both body and soul, of how we communicate and live before God, and how we communicate and live before those in Christian community.
Read in full the article The Church, Why bother?.
And for more quotes on the importance of the church in our spiritual walk, read Reflections: The Church.