Remember the days when three piece suits were all the rage from the pulpit to the ushers and every man in between? Yes, and the women weren't found in anything less than stockings, dresses and heels. Those 'good 'ole days' when that little modesty cloth was in FULL force on any Sunday in America (and the world at large). Eventually we would see the fashion shifting down to business casual and these days we aren't too sure what to call the look of skinny jeans Christianity, we're just happy that in the era of extreme retro the mullet hasn't made a triumphant comeback...yet. All visuals aside, this digression pattern became manifest in the ways in which doing life as a Christian would mirror doing life as shiny new members of the local country club. If we haven't had the privilege of country club membership in our lifetimes, it surprisingly isn't too far off from that of church membership. The more we give, the greater our privileges. The more we show up, the more popular we become. The more people we refer, the more clout we get from the management. This is the church we all know (and love) in the 21st Century. There isn't another generation who has seen the church so polished, so professional and so organized. In no other era have more pastors been most frequently described as best selling authors, celebrity wranglers and experts at the power of "these 7 steps"... whichever 7 steps they come up with. This is indeed the church of the future, right?
Now, we can see how the above paragraph may SEEM like a dig at the post modern church, but NO it isn't. The intent is not to point fingers at, or partake in disorderly judgement. The intent is and always will be to slap ourselves in the face from time to time to ensure that we aren't falling prey to what the pharasitical hierarchy in the days of Jesus took great pride in; an ugly spiritual elitism. Matthew chapter 6 is probably one of the most face slapping chapters to us church goers in the entire bible. Let's find out why with just a couple of excerpts (reading this chapter entirely in our free time, will definitely snap the slumber right out us).
Matthew 6:1-2 (GW)
"Be careful not to do your good works in public in order to attract attention. If you do, your Father in heaven will not reward you. So when you give to the poor, don't announce it with trumpet fanfare. This is what hypocrites do in the Synagogues and on the streets in order to be praised by people. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward."
Matthew 6:4 (GW)
"Give your contributions privately. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you."
(It's not that we don't love verse 3, it's an amazing verse that pertains to WHAT you give rather than HOW you give it, here, we are dealing with the HOWS).
In a merit based society we are trained to think that it isn't who we are, but what we have that makes us truly matter. However, in the Kingdom of grace it isn't (nor has it ever been) about membership, attendance, giving records, prayer time logging or massive amounts of scripture reading that provokes God to answer us. The fact of the matter is that when we are working for the notice of God or people at the same time, we are frustrating that grace. God doesn't love us more if we are a member of the local church with a perfect attendance record, than He does the people who aren't members with a zero attendance record! We have heard many times from the scripture in Hebrews 10 about our responsibility to be assembled together in verses 24-25 "And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, all the more as you see the DAY drawing near." That word day is referring to the DAY of the return of Jesus. Now we need a paradigm shift in thinking when it comes to our relationship to Jesus. One: it's a personal thing. Two: it's a spiritual thing. Three: it's a relational thing. Four: it's a growing/learning thing. Five: (above all) it's a loving thing.
Look, we (collectively) have been on both ends of the spectrum. We've stayed late into the wee hours of the morning rehearsing, planning and setting up for the big church service the next day; and we've also been those who decided that sticking to a clockwork week in and week out schedule of church going wasn't helping us to grow and remain focused on our relationship with God first and foremost. You see, that word assembly actually means the divine placement of people into where they should be in order to fully function with others in the spiritual 'body of Christ' for the enrichment of all. Hebrews isn't talking about church attendance, rather the functioning physical representation of Jesus here on earth.
For those of us who haven't already connected the dots, the "country club" that we refer to at the start of this blog, is in reference to the environment that has been created by a corporate church mentality resulting in an unwanted byproduct of rapid growth, at the cost of the whole TRUTH about our position and real identity, and developing maturity in us continually. Our experience as Jesus imitators should never hang in the balance of our Christian social cravings or our congregational obligations working us to the bone at the expense of our solid concrete knowledge of who God is in the entirety of our lives. This is not a new concept by any means, but it is the last that we will see even in the church herself.
Matthew 23:2-5a (NIV)
"The teachers of the law and the pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see..."
God is getting real serious (real fast) about the condition of the church, which by definition is referring to His called out ones. We are not to identify ourselves by the denomination, church membership or affiliation to our local celebrity pastor or leader. With this in mind we know that Jesus is getting His people ready, because the bible tells us that before He judges the world, He will closely examine the church. Instead of being caught up in the performance craze, we MUST make sure that our relationship with God is TOP priority. This is why the scripture in Matthew 23 is vital for us to look at.
Right now in the state of California the church has been treated as an after thought; but Phase 3 is going to be the church phase, where we can gather once again. As we all are acutely aware, we haven't been in a church building with our church friends for a while now. But there is a time when church will return, and just as with all businesses that have been rolling out their services once again, things will be different. No, we aren't talking about the masks or the 6 feet of separation or the hand sanitizers or the fear that perpetuates it all; we are talking about the difference in us. If we are honest, we are all different now (hopefully). Even though on one hand (as humans count it) our church attendance has suffered a little bit, on the other hand us becoming the living church has been exploding unto greater maturity and greater dependence upon Jesus for every breath that we take. An entire shifting of perspective (ideally) has happened (and continues) over to the living breathing Jesus followers who are the actual church, hopefully without an ounce of country club left in them. Anything and everything we have learned in this collective experience, is meant to NOW be used to the fullest as we congregate back and proactively hunt for opportunities to put to good use the organic functionality of the church in flesh and blood; not being limited by the walls of the buildings that we continue to express ourselves within as we gather to worship Jesus.
Finally, God isn't looking for faithful attending and giving of ourselves under the pretense of doing the organized church thing, the "country club" way. He is looking for faithful obedience from His followers to act spontaneously as the church, in loving and expressing His character through His people. Go the church!