Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Should We Reclaim the Church's Original Intent? It Depends.

You don't have to look long to realize that the church of today in many places doesn't fire people's imaginations, or often inspire deep devotion that changes things. There's no judgment intended in that statement; simply an observation - and though I could be wrong, I don't think I am. At least not given the number of books written on the topic, which I'd point to in order to make a case.

So, I join a lot of others who think that's true. Being honest about that in general is important, but being honest about that in particular - speaking about one's specific location - is more important, and of course, much more difficult. Devoted people in local churches work tremendously hard for a community they love, giving in many cases not only what they've got, but beyond that even to what they don't.

What is difficult to even ask much less answer is the question, "What are we working so hard for?" And, "Is what we are working so hard for the thing that God wants most for us, for the world around us?" Everyone wants to grow and experience vitality in their faith, but "What are we growing? And for what purpose?" To be honest about the answer to that question is very difficult; so much of ourselves are invested, that often we aren't able to see it.

And yet, we must be honest if we are going to be and remain the community of love that Christ called his disciples to be. We have to be as bold as Micah, who stood before the temple complex and said on behalf of the Lord,

With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

I can't help but think - like so many others - that the church was done a great disservice when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. I know there are folks who applaud this moment as Christianity's finest. But I cannot help but think that in that moment the church moved from a radical, fringe movement, challenging the culture, to the center of culture and over time being challenged for its own abusive use of power. I won't take time to run this out; others do a far better job at that than I. Suffice it to say, that what became an institution needing maintenance was originally intended to be a Spirit-movement leading out in love.

Should we reclaim the church's original intent? It depends. It depends whether we are talking about the old ways or the much older ways.

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