October 17, 2017

Expecting Too Much

By Chaplain Mike

Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in which we may participate.

• Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 19

I saw this church sign yesterday (name of church removed), and knew I had to comment on it—

Slogans don’t say everything, but they can be telling. In this case, I believe these three little words identify a major problem in myself and throughout American evangelicalism—

We expect too much.

Let’s stop and think about this for a minute. What does “More than Church” mean?

Why would anyone want more than church? Isn’t the church what Jesus said he would build, and the gates of hell would not stand against it? Isn’t the church the Bride of Christ? The Body of Christ? Isn’t the church a kingdom of priests, God’s people brought out of darkness into light to declare God’s praises? Isn’t the church the gathered people of God, brought into fellowship with God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and growing into a holy temple to the Lord?

Oh, but of course that’s not what they mean. I’m certain that when they say “church” they are referring to the less than perfect ways people have lived out their life as the church. “We are more than the disappointing picture of ‘church’ that you have in your mind.”

The church has focused on buildings. We are about more than buildings. The church has focused on tradition. We are about more than tradition (in fact, we’re not going to be about tradition at all!) The church has been notoriously slow to change. We offer more than that—we are open to the fresh winds of the Holy Spirit and ready to follow whatever innovative ways he shows us. The church has played old-fashioned music that doesn’t speak to people today. We’ll give you more than that—”a kickin’ praise band that will thrill your soul. The church has been about doctrine and teachings that don’t relate to life. We will give you more than that—practical messages from the Bible that will help us be better people.

But probably most of all (and I will admit I’m guessing here) the primary message of this sign implies: The church as you have known it has been a place of pain, a place where you’ve been wounded, where other people have hurt you where your faith has been hindered rather than helped. We will give you more than that—for we are a congregation of authentic disciples who will welcome you and nurture you in your faith. We have a church that is more than church as you have known it. Here, you won’t be disappointed.

While I’m sure their intentions are good, if this is what they mean by “More than Church,” I’m not buying it. Nor should you.

Let’s analyze the first group of statements.

  • Our church is more than buildings. Yes. But there are some in the church who have found great help for their faith in the beauty and symbolic significance of church architecture and furnishings. And good order is commended in Scripture itself. We expect too much if we think that we can only have true church by downplaying the significance of the material and institutional. Electricity without a system of wires and outlets is wild fire. With an infrastructure to conduct it, it benefits our lives in countless ways. Just so, wherever there is life there is organization of that life into material forms. Our faith is sacramental; God meets us in the world, not apart from it.
  • Our church is more than tradition and slow-changing practices. Yes. But I would argue that disavowal of tradition is one of the greatest weaknesses of today’s church. The ethos of modern life, with its breathtaking pace of change and its vast range of technological possibilities keeps us moving forward so fast that we don’t think we need the past any more. That, however, is not the nature of genuine religious faith, which is based in a community with a heritage. We expect too much if we think we can find a church where we can forget all that and just let the Spirit lead. If we knew the past, we’d recognize the kind of shipwrecks that are often found along that course.
  • Our church is more than old-fashioned practices. Yes. However, in line with what we’ve said about tradition, the church cannot simply throw out the past with each generation and start over. That’s not how this works. I believe that part of the church’s responsibility in each generation is to help believers appreciate their heritage and draw from what the Holy Spirit has taught the church down through the centuries. So many people are going to churches today because of the promise, “This is not your grandfather’s Oldsmobile.” But we expect too much if we go to a church because we think we will never be bored, never leave a service uninspired, never have to sing songs we don’t like, never have to sit through something that doesn’t interest us, or never have to set aside our tastes and our preferences. Besides, there might be a few grandfathers and grandmothers there who really loved that Oldsmobile. Why would you want to deprive them of blessing?
  • Our church is more than doctrine and irrelevant teaching. Yes. And I would live on junk food if I could, too. Junk food is convenient, immediately (if not ultimately) satisfying, inexpensive. It meets our need for a quick bite on our way to the next thing. Eat it in the car if you need to. Let’s just make the transaction fast and easy so that I can get on with my life. How different is today’s mindset from the traditional understanding of “Word and Sacrament”! Worship is not Oprah or Dr. Phil, designed to capture my interest in an entertaining way and give me something practical for living. God’s people gather for otium sanctum—holy rest in the presence of God, where we luxuriate in his presence, learn deeply of him, and savor the bread and the cup of salvation. This includes meditating on the Word of God, chewing on it, digesting it, praying through it, giving it time to soak into our very pores. The church that offers “more than” that by providing “practical” and “relevant” teaching doesn’t get it. And if it leads you to expect “more” because you think it will meet your needs better, you will be sadly disappointed.
  • Our church is more than the church where you got hurt. Hmm. I have just one question: Are there people in your church? If so, then this is an unrealistic expectation. Do you expect people in the church to be different than other people? That’s an unrealistic expectation too. They may dress up a little more (or not), smile a little more, talk nice a little more, but underneath it all you will find the same sinful, selfish spirit that inhabits all the children of Adam and Eve. Did you realize that the Bible only records Jesus using the word, “church” two times in the Gospels? The first time, he’s talking to Peter about building his church, which the gates of hell will never withstand (Matt 16:18). The only other time, it appears in a collection of teachings preparing the disciples for the new community that will come into existence after he leaves them. The word is used in Matt 18:17, and the context is what “the church” should do when a brother sins against another and will not repent. The whole sermon deals with subjects like humbling ourselves, dealing with stumbling blocks, temptations to despise the “little ones” in our midst, how to deal with sin, unrepentance and conflict in the community, and the practice of forgiveness. That’s church, my friend. If you expect “more than” that, you are being unrealistic.

My first thought upon seeing the “More than Church” sign was to reflect upon what Dietrich Bonhoeffer might have said about it. His words from Life Together came back to me almost immediately:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience or discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

• Life Together, p. 18

Frankly, I wouldn’t trust anyone who promises, “More than Church.” Now maybe this Christian group just found a catchy slogan, and thought it said something that might encourage people to try them out. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. But whether the slogan is used or not, American evangelicalism has filled the land with churches promising people “more than church.”

Folks, there is no more. It is what it is. Of course, we can dream, and pray, and work to make it better. We most certainly should do that. But there is no starting over, and there is no escaping the hard realities that accompany the project of being the church in the world.

We shouldn’t expect anything different from that.

Comments

  1. Our church is more than the church where you got hurt. Hmm. I have just one question: Are there people in your church? If so, then this is an unrealistic expectation. Do you expect people in the church to be different than other people? That’s an unrealistic expectation too. They may dress up a little more (or not), smile a little more, talk nice a little more, but underneath it all you will find the same sinful, selfish spirit that inhabits all the children of Adam and Eve.

    the one inescapable fact that i have finally accepted is just this: the church is made up of needy people. it is more hospital than a well-oiled, well coordinated professional ball team. i understand the desire for cooperation & acceptance & sharing in a communal expression, but my experience is that expectations lead only to frustration, disappointment & distraction. since i decided to reengage a local faith community, i had to deliberately choose to be less picky. less demanding in my perception of ‘togetherness’ or like-mindedness. it is not my standard of comfort or being put at ease that is the reason i attend a weekly worship gathering. i am intrigued by the people around me that have awesome stories of God’s provision & transformation in their lives. i am encouraged & challenged by those unlike myself in background, theology, sense of fashion, etc.

    i would not say i am very chummy with many at the church i attend although i know that i am loved & appreciated for just who i am. i do not provide any special ministry or have any visible function. i volunteer when i can, where i can, but it is not something i do out of obligation or wanting to be recognized…

    there are personality conflicts that have to be worked out. imperfect people coming into contact with other imperfect people causing friction, misunderstanding, hurt. i am saddened of course, but i do not cease to attend because the grand church experiment is a failure…

    i do try to be more accepting, accommodating, patient. i am not by any stretch of the imagination so mature as to be unaffected by boorish behavior of others, let alone having to take ownership of my own insensitivity & self-centeredness. i know we all have some unspoken ideal in mind of how church could be. yet it is really more dream than reality. learning to live within a close community with others different than ourselves a life long lesson. i am more relaxed with the disruptions as they happen. i am less inclined to withdraw or think the effort not worth the risks. i am about ready to move to a new city 2.5 hours north of my current location. i will have to consider a new start at a new faith community that will require effort & risk to discover. and then i must choose to invest emotion, time & interaction to build new relationships around a common faith expression. frankly, it seems to be too scary right now. not a primary goal yet. i must find housing. secure employment. make the physical move. after that, i will visit some churches after doing some research. anyway, i am hoping my search leads me to a community of believers i can bless & be blessed by…

  2. What the true thoughts were of those who posted the sign we may never know. It could be that they were just attempting to say, “We want you to come and join our friendly group.” Or as you say, “Try them out”. But truly that sign does portray what has come to be expected in our Christian community, and you had the perception to put it all in words. I would not have said it any different. Actually I believe that the sign actually belittles the importance of church.

  3. Johnfom says:

    Maybe I’m not quite as cynical as I thought I was. My immediate reaction was that the sign indicated ‘more than’ the sometimes superficial gathering of Sunday morning. The second thing that crept into my mind was that it was bringing in the theological, and in particular the Christological, by saying the life of faith was more than (although implicitly retaining) a relationship with others, but including a relationship with ‘the cross’ and the one it is famous for.

    But then I’m reacting to the sign as it is on this page. The inclusion of the church’s name admittedly could have changed my initial reaction. As it stands here I see ‘There is more than what you see’, pointing the mind away from the church, as focus, towards the God. With the church’s name it may have looked more like ‘We are better than your church’, drawing the mind to focus on the ‘better’ way of being church they believe they have.

    • I saw the same thing you did Johnfom.

      And I am willing to bet that the sign at the very least, would get some “unchurched” person thinking. Maybe enuff to cause them to walk thru the door someday.

      After all, I belong to a denomination whose “motto” is “God is still speaking”, and I have quite a few folks walk thru our doors to find out what we mean by THAT! 🙂

    • I take your point, but the problem is, in the end, we really can’t have this separation between God and the church, can we? The fathers used to say, “There is no salvation outside the church.” When Jesus gave the great commission he urged us to “make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them,” and this points to a community into which people will enter and live. While I appreciate that today, many people are attracted to Jesus but repelled from the church as they may have experienced it or as the stereotypes they have heard describe it, it is still not ours to promise them “more than church.” No, what we offer them is church, the flawed community in which God dwells.

      • YOur reply reminds me of the song “Just Give Me Jeus”……if only it were that easy; sorry, you get HIS kids also. Kinda messy…ooops.

        GregR

      • Johnfom says:

        ‘…we really can’t have this separation between God and the church, can we?’

        I get what you are saying, and no we can’t have a separation between God and the church… in the sense that the church is the bride, the body, et al. And it is certainly not ours to offer ‘more than the church’, but as a theological statement that there is more to faith than the church (which the sign almost certainly isn’t), or as a statement of intention (we try to recognise there are more important things in faith/life than ‘church’), it works. That’s not to dismiss the church, I affirm it and we should celebrate the connection we gain to others and to our history through it. But as much as the church needs to be raised in estimation for many, there is just as much need for the church to de-emphasised it’s self-importance.

        I want to make it clear, I love your original post. I’ve seen that hunger for ‘more’ in people both in Australia and the UK. I wasn’t meaning to dismiss any of that, but to broaden the perception of the meaning in the sign.

  4. ” In this case, I believe these three little words identify a major problem in myself and throughout American evangelicalism—

    We expect too much.”

    The smart-alec answer here is “Become Catholic – nobody has lower expectations!” 🙂

    Interesting points you raise. My first impression of that sign would be “We’re not just the place where you go for an hour or so on Sunday, we’ll be part of your entire life all the week” which, of course, is what church should be – when, by ‘church’, we mean ‘the life of Christ in our community’ and not just ‘a system of rituals and regulations’.

    But what you say is also very pertinent. Always the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    • “Become Catholic – nobody has lower expectations”

      Wisely, I sipped my coffee AFTER reading Martha’s post. Martha , you are indeed a gem from the emerald isle.

      GregR

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

      Going in the opposite direction one could always become super-Reformed because quite possibly no one has higher expectations. 🙂

  5. More is less.

    • And less is definitely more. If their statement intends to say “more than Religion”, I’d endorse their sentiments heartily. If somehow it otherwise means “more than the Body”, forget it.

      Life Together is so refreshingly counter-intuitive to the gospel of what Jesus has done for me personally. I love it because it reverses the logic behind the loose collection of individual experiences we have become conditioned to call community.

      • Really well put, Stuart. We say we believe in the communion of saints, don’t we?
        .

  6. There’s a church in downtown Atlanta that’s actually named “The Perfect Church”.

    Well thought out response to the “more than church” idea. I believe that one of the major mistakes of the post-modern church was to attempt to become, well, “more than church”. We’ve played to people’s thirst for entertainment, and called it “evangelism strategy”.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with any particular music style in worship, as long as it’s theologically sound. There’s a part of me, though, that wants something profoundly different from the world, when it comes to choosing a church. My life is crazy and chaotic sometimes…so give me some liturgy, some order that I can understand. My life is stressful…so give me some place that is peaceful in life, a place I can run to. My life doesn’t allow for a lot of free time to spend with God…so leave your doors unlocked so I can pray at odd hours (If you’re worried about your sound/musical equipment being stolen, then you’ve spent too much money on sound and musical equipment). Life is filled with minimally intimate relationships…so teach your congregation that it’s important to care for each other, and the community around them. My life is sometimes tedious and mundane…challenge me to change and view life in different ways than I have before.

    I love the church, even with all her scars, and all the scars her members have left on me.

    • So, someone has finally found The Perfect Church, huh? Wow.

      • Heh, heh. I’m thinking of Will Ferrell in “Elf” here…

      • Rule of thumb: the Perfect church has no toilets.

        • Ha! Truer words have never been spoken. You know, I once sat in a deacons’ meeting for almost an hour, listening to them discuss whether to go to Sam’s and buy a case of toilet paper, or to just buy a twelve pack at the grocery store. No lie.

          But if you take away the toilets, where will the pastor read?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Or where can he hide when he’s overwhelmed?

          • Oh…12 pack of TOILET PAPER…..you had me for a second , there, LEE;

            GregR

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Oh…12 pack of TOILET PAPER…..you had me for a second , there…

            Though after a meeting like that, the pastor’s going to need the other kind of 12-pack.

        • Another evidence that Christianity developed from the Essenes…
          🙂

    • The opposite extreme of the “perfect church” is an equally arrogant false humility. It has become trendy for churches to adopt the slogan or display the sign that says: “No perfect people allowed.” It is so tragic that we’ve created so many churches that would never allow Jesus to come.

      • Yeah, it does concern me a bit at times that we can have such a passion to criticize the modern church and all her faults that we run into a false humility. We must always personally apologize for any and all failings of the church throughout history, even if we ourselves never actually committed those sins. While I am not saying we should not confess our failings, individually and corporately, we must also not commit the error of thinking we must bow and scrape before we can ever talk about the church and the faith it holds.

  7. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    Riffing off of the second and third points, I’m currently reading In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture by Alister McGrath. In one of the chapters, he discusses how the KJV translation team built upon prior English translations rather than starting from scratch. The metaphor the translation team used was that they were “Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of Giants.” That is, they could see farther not because they were taller and of better sight than those of prior generations, but because the prior generations had lifted them up. McGrath goes on to talk about how in contrast to moderns (who value innovation and newness over all), the Renaissance mindset was to be consciously within a stream of learning, tradition, etc. so as to take that which was good and make it better by joining in the inter-generational “conversation.”

    I think the Church should be of that same mindset with respect to our “grandfather’s oldsmobile”

  8. People are the problem. And people are why the church exists. Church is the only institution that I’m aware of that exists for those who are not yet members.

    My pastor has said, “Church is God’s idea of a good time… not necessarily our’s.”

    • Steve Newell says:

      I disagree. The Church is the body of Christ. The Church exists for gathering of the saints to encourage each others, to hear the Word of God and to receive God’s gifts found in Holy Communion.

      The Church reflects the fact that they are fully of people who are both Saint and Sinner at the same time.

      • I think you are right, Steve,

        The church does also exist for it’s own members to keep them inn faith, as well as those who haven’t heard the gospel yet.

    • I disagree. Sin is the problem. Get rid of that, keep the people imo. All people sin. Church should teach them to stop, not foster a safe environment to excuse it in the name of grace. If your pastor dislikes church so much, why do you go there? I think building God’s kingdom is great! Painful at times, but rewarding.

  9. “No, what we offer them is church, the flawed community in which God dwells…”. Very well put, Chaplain Mike. I also like a similar thought from Lutheran pastor and author Deb Grant:

    “It never ceases to surprise me that people still expect the church to operate on a plain higher than our sinfulness allows”.
    We, as the Church, can only offer the world our imperfect attempts to pass on what Jesus offered us – God’s love.

  10. Mike, thanks for this post. I remember a few years back how annoyed I was that our church “community” was not all it could be. God used Bonhoeffer’s words from this book to knock me off my high horse and help me to see my expectations were the real problem.

    I don’t know anything about the church that put these signs up. But I do know that my own pride and self-delusion lead me to sometimes be too critical and cynical about the church, as if the problem were “out there” instead of in me.

    Thanks

  11. I think the first thing that pops into their head of many when they hear the word “church” is the brick & mortar structure. We use phrases like “meet me at the church, or “the wedding is at First Baptist Church” and we are talking about a geographic location, not some body-of-believers concept.

    That being said, I think the approach is a well-meaning attempt to get the average person beyond the simplistic view of what church is. Many here at least understand the broader meaning of the word on an intellectual level, but I don’t think that’s the norm “out there”.

  12. Part of me can see the “we are hip and radial Christians doing groovy stuff” implied in the sign as posted.

    BUT…..I can also read it as “come on in for the party….it is SO much better than being stuck with all that boring God-Jesus-Sin stuff you’ve heard a billion times!”

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Our church is more than old-fashioned practices.
    Yes. However, in line with what we’ve said about tradition, the church cannot simply throw out the past with each generation and start over.

    That is called “Reinventing the Wheel.” And those “old-fashioned practices” are probably what was UBER-UBER-RELEVANT! the last time they Reinvented the Wheel.

    • I held myself back this morning, when there were only two comments up. Didn’t want to skew the tone of the discussion. But I guess now is a good time to veer off-topic, since HUG used the “uber” word.

      In Nietzsche’s ideal of the Superman the German is “Ãœbermensch”, which I learned can also be translated as “more than man”.

      Is this what the founders of MTC intended? Ãœber-kirche?

      If their menfolk all have walrus mustaches that would be a clue.

  14. Thanks, but there’s a reason that Chaplain Mike removed their name from the sign; let’s assume that he gave us what we needed to know for the topic at hand.

    • Chaplain Mike wrote:

      But probably most of all—and I will admit I’m guessing here—the primary message of this sign implies: The church as you have known it has been a place of pain, a place where you’ve been wounded, where other people have hurt you where your faith has been hindered rather than helped. We will give you more than that—for we are a congregation of authentic disciples who will welcome you and nurture you in your faith. We have a church that is more than church as you have known it. Here, you won’t be disappointed.

      The primary message of the sign may or may not imply this, as far as this particular congregation is concerned. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. I posted the link so we could at least examine if the things suggested to Chaplain Mike by the sign are in fact true for the people responsible for the sign. Because even though the topic is a general/generic one, it was prompted by the actions of a specific and particular church.

      Of course, one does not need to read or view the church’s Website to discuss the topic at hand.

      • Eric, if you read the post carefully, I said that I would give this particular church the benefit of the doubt. I simply wanted to use the saying as an example of what I see happening in churches all across America. So it really wasn’t about this particular ministry at all, and the reason I omitted the name was because I did not want the focus put on them nor any criticism directed toward them. Since I wasn’t able to moderate today because of work commitments, I hope your links won’t lead anyone to give undue attention to this particular fellowship. Therefore, I have removed them at this point.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Similar trendoid church naming has hit where I live in Anaheim. There used to be a Baptist church at Broadway & Citron, one of those A-frame modern church buildings from the Sixties. A few months ago they changed their name to “Portal” — nameplate on the building’s been replaced with banners advertising “PORTAL” in grey and maroon, and I’ve had Portal business cards — also in maroon-and-grey — shoved under my door in some sort of advertising outreach around the same time as the change-of-name.

          Nowhere on the cards or banners do they mention they are any sort of church; I have not visited the URL on the cards, so I don’t know whether they mention it on their website.

          I’m kind of scratching my head over this. The cards look no different than any other business promo.

        • I must admit, I was curious too, and had googled them before Eric had posted his links.

          • I don’t mind. I only hope people realize this was not intended to say anything specific about this particular church, which I know nothing about.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    MTC (aka “Empty Sea”) is also the name of the Mormon Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah (probably on the BYU campus) where the Mormons give their mishies a “boot camp” before sending them out.

  16. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    OK, so “More Than Church” was a pun on the initials of the church’s name. (A name I’m still scratching my head over.)

    I tend to cut church signs a little slack; it’s not easy to come up with catchy slogans shorter than a Twitter Tweet every week or every revival or every recruiting drive. After a while you run out of the good ones and/or get kind of punchy.

    • This past winter was the most snowy one my region has seen in decades. A local baptist church whose pastor is DEFINETELY sign punchy posted:

      “Why are you still driving in this weather???”

  17. I actually have a lot of fear about church, and right now I want to stay away from it like I’d avoid cancer. For me I never expected the church to be perfect or held it to such a standard. After all people are people, but what shocked me was knowing stories of the Bible about the downtrodden, broken, hurt people who Jesus just loved and commanded his followers to love; and then running into an exactly opposite situation. My life is screwed up….I’m open about it, I don’t deny it, living with past mistakes can be the hardest. But the difficult situation about the church culture is that you can run into problems where ever you go in different ministries, and in different locations. It didn’t matter whether it was Campus Crusade, the local fundegelical mega church in DC, work place Bible study, etc.. I realized that it is all a sham. What should be a hospital for broken people is instead a place for elite, self righteous individuals living the “victorious Christian life…”

    But truth be told the church is not a place for the broken. There are many things the church doesn’t wasn’t to hear or discuss. I’m sorry folks but sin is sin, and it can be ugly. It’s weird but as an agnostic I don’t know why I am so convicted of the concept of people being sinful. It amazes me that the last place you can discuss sin or confess it is in the fundegelical church. Once in my prior brainwashed days when I was in a work Bible study I shared some general details about an ugly situation that I knew as a prayer request. No names, no where this happened, etc… just briefly about a guy who got his girlfriend pregnant, who saw nothing wrong and was being disciplined and thrown out of the ministry he was involved with. The Bible study was less than pleased to hear a prayer request like this, and afterward I was pulled aside and told to keep such “sinful” prayer requests to myself and just say, “There’s a sad situation involving sin….” Yes…let’s just pretend in a manner that would outdo Mr. Rogers as we go into the neighborhood of make believe….. But that’s what churches are…aren’t they?

    • Wow. I wish you could visit my church. No falsehood here, we are sinners, and we know it. I think it helps that we are in “the hood.” No pretense when the homeless and drug addicted “crash” your service. Remember the publican who beat his breast and cried out for mercy? That is what God’s people really look like. I feel for you, friend.

    • Eagle, my heart hurts hearing this….all that leaps to mind is a vision of whitewashed tombs full of rotting meat and worms.

      I wish you were making this up, and know you are not.

      How did those folks get around the accounts of Jesus with the woman caught in bed a man not her husband? Or the “lady” pouring expensive oil on his feet? Or the Samaritan at the well and her five or so “husbands”? Afraid that God doesn’t know about sexual sin…or any other kind?? What, only pray about a student deciding between Oral Robers U. and Liberty U. and “nice” things like that?

      I am so very sorry that these pseudo-Christians hurt you like that…..sorry, and ticked off!

  18. Mike, this is another great post.

    Still, I can’t help but think that what you say so well here stands diametrically opposed to the “post-evangelical” brand that this blog has sought to promote. This blog has long appealed to those who, unwilling to put up with some of the nonsense they experienced in evangelicalism, have left their evangelical churches, as though they are looking for something “more than” their experience of church.

    Now, I am not denying that evangelicalism has more nonsense right now than a Joe Biden ad lib. And I am not claiming that evangelicalism is the only place where one can find a true church. Of course, there is a wider world out there.

    Still, the narrative that this blog has long promoted has been one of abandonment of one kind of church in favor of another. How does that cohere with the very wise and biblical words you have given us here about loving the church in spite of its flaws?

    • I could try and come up with a lot of clever reasoning here Aaron (and Cunnudda below). But I won’t blow smoke. Just recognize that I’m in the wilderness and that the way is not clear to me at this point. And while I appreciate Miguel’s kind expression of support below, I won’t claim that I’m being like Jesus here. I will admit that I’m conflicted about the church and am trying to find my way and maybe shed a little light on a path for others.

      Every Sunday I stand and say, “I believe in the holy catholic church.” And mean it. At the same time, I call myself a post-evangelical, which is not so much a rejection of the church per se as it is a statement that I have left one form of the church. And at the same time, I don’t know where I belong or fit, and there are a bunch of vocational questions and issues all wrapped up with that too.

      As far as the blog, all I can hope is that something of value will be said here at iMonk as I wander around the wilderness.

      • But the way does seem clear to you. Read your own words. Live them.

        • Let me clarify what I mean there, lest I cause unnecessary and unintentional offense. I am not calling you a hypocrite. I am not saying you are not living out your own words. You probably are in the context of your own local church, which is most important, far more important than whatever “-ism” you may or may not identify with (such as “evangelicalism”).

          But I would urge you not to expect too much, as you have rightly warned us, from any church, including the evangelical churches that have been set up as a foil to this blog.

  19. Cunnudda says:

    I diagnose iMonk with Bipolar II (rapid cycling). Because next week there will be a post featuring someone who was driven away from the church by someone’s bad behavior, and we will be encouraged to beat our breasts and repent. This week the church is still full of sin and we should get used to it, next week the church is still full of sin and we should not tolerate it……

    • Bipolar! Yes, that’s definitely it. Point out flaws in the church while demanding that we love her anyways. Kinda like Jesus and the apostles.

  20. DB Beem says:

    These speaks to one of my pet peeves

    Christians who don’t like calling themselves Christians
    Christians who don’t like church

    So, as a result they devise other ways of referring to themselves, thoroughly confusing people along the way.

    This reminds me of the whole discussion here a few weeks ago about “radical christianity” which is a way of saying that you are real authentic christian.

    The way to take back “church” and “christianity” is not to skulk away in shame, but rather to humbly live what these words mean, acknowledge our faults, ask forgiveness and try to do better, all the while being informed by God’s word and the Holy Spirit.

    Instead of using the last 100 years of Christianity as a reference point on what these words mean, use the first 100 years of when these words first began to be used.

  21. The problem here is not unrealistic expectations. See “Mere Churchianity” Ch. 1: When church signs lie. I believe these are blatant attempts to build personal empires at the expense of God’s kingdom, though the perpetrators may not be fully cognizant of their own corrupt intentions to do so. Ultimately, this is merely symptomatic of a deeper issue: American evangelicalism has abandoned any remote semblance of a biblical ecclesiology. It got filed under “irrelevant doctrines,” though nothing could be more relevant to our crumbling societies than a gospel shaped community. We’ve forgotten what the church was supposed to be and lost ourselves chasing after worldly dreams of success and numbers. (see “pietism” and “revivalism”)
    I agree that we will be hurt in church. But this can NOT become one of our definitive marks. We are to be known for our love to one another, not our betrayal. Ecclesiology comes into practical use as godly and mature shepherds protect the sheep and hold them accountable in a manner that drives away the wolves that would eat them alive. As Douglas Wilson has said, everybody practices church discipline. Either you will protect the sheep and punish the wolves, or you will protect the wolves and punish the sheep. Our PC culture that views no sin as greater than the sin of offending someone, has created a culture where it is perfectly acceptable for entrepreneurial wolves to replace the role of the shepherd. End of rant.

  22. cermak_rd says:

    “Our church is more than old-fashioned practices.
    Yes. However, in line with what we’ve said about tradition, the church cannot simply throw out the past with each generation and start over.”

    Why not? The Quakers did this and what they came up with “speaks” to their societies. Same with the Mennonites, and other gatherings. Why should people be subject to worship designed for another culture in another time?

    Democracy of the dead you say? It only applies in those gatherings that believe in the communion of saints. If the gathering does not believe that there is a mystical union between those that have gone before and those still around, then why should the past speak for them?

    The point of religious groups is to point their people to the Divine. The reason there are so many different gatherings is that not every way of pointing is helpful to every person.

  23. Chaplain Mike:

    Reading your post made me thing of St. Augustine, whom I understand is credited with conveying the thought that the church is HOSPITAL. What is a hospital for? To treat sick people. Sin has made us sick-more than that!. So we should not be so surprised to find imperfection amongst God’s people.

    I like Bonhoeffer’s statements. I confess I have only read about the man but not his works with exeception of a book I have on my desk. The book is called “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers for Prison” edited by Eberhard Bethge. I have only read sections of it but so far so good.

    I believe you wrote in another post this week about not knowing much about Church history. Based on what you have written here, it would appear you know more than you realize. Personally I am a history buff. Church history, of course, but also selected periods in other parts of the world, not necessarily religious either. If we do no know our history, we will be more prone to live as if we were the first generation ever tackling or confronting a problem. Consequently, we make more mistakes that we would have. Sadly, as americans, I have found, most of us are more ignorant than not about what has gone on before. Not just in matter of religion either. God have mercy on us and He does and for that I am greatful. He is still at work among us!

    Thanks for the post

    Guido

  24. I should have waited instead of trying to post at 4:03 am. Would like to have had that one back. Not that I disagree with anything said, just they way I said it. I am a new kid on the block here and so don’t know if you have ever discussed what the definition of the local church is or should be. I ask about this because in my experience, there is precious little work being done through the local church to reach the down and outer. It would seem that to build a fortress around all the “nice people” makes us obsessed with ourselves instead of God. The world is darkening by the day and without hope. Shouldn’t our motivation be to meet the needs of people outside our walls?

    It does seem, these days, that our strongest motivation is to hold fast to the rules and traditions or just let loose and scream like the world, which in turn leads to what I call playing church. If Jesus walked through the doors of the church, I wonder what He would say about out little local assembly? Something to ponder don’t you think? So just exactly what are we supposed to by doing?

    • Ardnas:

      I could be wrong about this, but it sounds like you already know the answer. We are supposed be growing in our love for God, yielding daily our lives to Him which inevitably leads to loving others in the power of HIS spirit. We cannot give what we do not have. We need God’s love for ourselves and to fill us so we/He can love those around us. We must decrease so He can increase (John 3:30). Our greatest need is for Him. Do not give up or get discouraged. We are all at different places. You are not alone. May God lead you to those who long to be all that they are called to be in God. God bless.

      Guido+

      • Thank you Guido,

        Yes, I do know and understand what you say. I guess my thinking was, where do we draw the line. For instance, is it marketing the church when we have a cloths closet and put a sign out for people to see on a given day?

        • That is hard to say. For some, it may be so. For others, its just a way to get the message out. The difficulty is that you do not know which. All we can do is ask God to keep our hearts pure if we find ourselves getting into the self-promotion thing.

  25. Church marketing speak rarely expresses a really buttoned-down theology or ecclesiology, so I’d be inclined to cut that particular church some slack until I knew a fair bit more.

    Nonetheless, I understand the broader point and agree. Whenever the church really does try to be more than the church (as opposed to being the church better and/or in a different way or style that’s still rooted in good ecclesiology), it seems to do more harm than good. Straying into culture war politics and heavy moralism are two examples, though there are surely many more.

  26. @ Chap Mike and admittedly OFF TOPIC; this book looks right up your alley

    from Jesus Creed/ Scott McKnight
    I (Scott) promised (and intended) to read and post on Joel B. Green’s book Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible.

    hope I’m not meddling
    GregR

  27. All churches are made up of sinners who aresaved by Grace through Jesus Christ. We are not perfect on our own merit, so treat us as you would want to be treated and cut us all some slack.

  28. When I first started reading your post, I was thinking to myself, “Why is he giving this sign a hard time? I think it’s a great message!” And then I started to really understand the point you’re making. Why isn’t church enough on its own? Thank you for breaking down exactly what a church is in the eyes of the Lord—I think it will all give us something to think about when we think of our own churches.

  29. I have wondered for awhile if we expect too much.

    A few years after college some good friends of ours decided to leave evangelicalism to go back to the mainline church. I remember a discussion I had with him. ‘How can you go to this dry bones place where you won’t hear good teaching and sermons’ was my complaint.

    He gently tried to explain to me that he was going to worship God. He never managed to get into my head that church was not about the pastor. He did not have grandiose expectations of his priest. I go to worship.

    It was not to fix him, or hear the latest and greatest, or to become a super christian.

    I have since started to attend a more mainline church and I understand. It is not about my priest, or that we are the best church in town, on God’s cutting edge. Just a Christian community that gathers.

  30. dumb ox says:

    How about, “More that Churchianity”? We do need more than church; we need Jesus. But it shouldn’t be either-or. The church needs to be a more transparent guide to Jesus – not a replacement or proxy.

  31. Certainly He has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the wise. Yet the potential for glory is wrapped quietly in all that weakness. How very odd. Bill Bryson said, “Even a uranium bomb, the most energetic thing we have produced yet, releases only one percent of the energy it could release if only we were more cunning.” Well I’m glad we are not more cunning on that front, as is the author I am sure, but it makes me think of the tremendous force of Holiness that exists within the body of Christ. We need nothing more than what has been imparted.

  32. The Guy from Knoxville says:

    Something that came to mind reading the post and comments is a word or words that I see far too often these days in churches – especially older established congregations and especially from the southen baptist ones. The words are Revisioning / Vision / Transition / Re-Image / Re-Imagine and several others you might add yourself. When I see “More Than Church” I have these other words come to mind and what the outcome usually ends up being when the Revisioning / Re-Imaging / Transitioning process is complete…… typically total irrepairable damage to all concerened, massive losses and good ridence etc.

    Folks, just what is Revisioning, transitioning, re-imagining etc in most churches today? What’s you’re experience been? More than Church – I dare say yes and it never seems to end in a good way at all. I know of at least 2 churches in North Carolina (both CBF/SBC – more CBF at the moment) that are in one of these processes – one is Transitioning (Transition Team) an the other Revisioning (Revisioning Team) and both have been and still are solid traditional, mission minded, evangelical (in a good sense), outreaching churches and yet we have these transitioning and revisioning processes going on and for the life of me I can’t see it going well for either because I’ve never seen this yet work out when long established churches are broadsided (in many cases) with this idea. The idea of doing things differently usually works best in a church established with that in mind to begin with and never has that been more clear than with contemporary church plants.

    Talk to me guys on this issue because I see this stuff decimating congregation, after congregation, after congregation all across the sbc and in other denominations as well. Of course PDL and PDC have not helped this either and things similar to that. It sounds and looks good on the surface but uder the surface and nice words are, many times, a tank of great white sharks ready to tear into anyone not following or supporting the “vision” or “transition” or “re-imagining” etc. More Than Church…….. sheesh!!??!!??!!

  33. I have a quibble about one point. Concerning buildings, I would guess no one here is too keen on Organic church, of which a few do have big buildings. This blog places much value on the past and tradition, but if we go back even further in our history and tradition, before Constantine, you will not see buildings. If you look at the Chinese church today, you by and large will not see buildings. And that played a sizable part in why these movements/periods of time where we see the Church at it’s best and purest. It’s here we see the Scripture coming true “that the gates of hell shall not prevail.” Process, control, and structure tend to kill everything. I rather have a hot mess that has a good chance at changing the world than something that will register a few bleeps on the radar. The best argument one can make for these things is that the Bible didn’t state that we couldn’t have them. Which… is valid. Anyways…

    I don’t want to start a big argument or side-show on organic church, but I wanted to throw the idea out there. As for the other points, I whole heartedly agree, as usual with this blog and its authors 🙂

    • Bobby, thanks for weighing in. I guess I would question whether the church was really at her “best and purest” in those times when there were not buildings dedicated to her use, or whether “process, control, or structure tend to kill everything.” I think most of us would find life in the early centuries of the church a whole lot more subject to “process, control, and structure” than we realize. Even the simple fact that there were bishops who exercised regional authority and oversight over congregations is not practiced today, with all the “autonomous” churches out there. As for buildings, any group of people larger than a handful must have met somewhere that would fit them, and if early Christian art is any indication, these weren’t all simply plain white walled buildings or just anybody’s house. As for your point about changing the world, if James Davison Hunter is right in his book, To Change the World, then the world is truly impacted when people build and maintain institutions that last and stand the test of time, providing ongoing contributions and stability in the leadership sectors of society. Wild fires of enthusiasm don’t tend bring about that lasting change.

  34. More than church? How can we honestly have something more than what Jesus promised? How can we disregard centuries of wisdom from those who came before to make something more fitting culturally? The Church is the Body of Christ, do we really want more?