“If we were able to put aside our need for approval long enough to be authentic, then, surely, we would be living as the church.” (Sheila Walsh)
This is a nice sentiment and has a Christian ring to it. i really appreciate Sheila Walsh and have great regard for her, but I do not think this sentiment is necessarily on target. What I have observed is that in being “authentic” with some people, most notably among many within the church, is that one simply hands the pharisees within the church fodder with which to judge a person and reject them for things they don’t understand or that they just simply don’t like. If you are going to be authentic with more than a close handful of people who really know, love, and accept you, you better be prepared to take flack and even find yourself standing alone. To jettison one’s need for approval of anyone other than God is a good thing, but authenticity will subject you to a considerable amount of misunderstanding and judgement by those who are unmerciful, proud, and who exercise power to control and promote their own message instead of to liberate Christ’s. “Church” has increasingly come to mean any group of people who self-affiliate by virtue of shared values (and sometimes very narrowly so) with one another rather than shared faith in and devotion to Christ.
I was in a retreat with a female pastor about 20 years or more ago. She enjoyed the weekend and at the end of it I asked her what her take away was. She said that it was very nice and it would be wonderful if the church actually lived that way. I wondered at the time if she had become jaded and cynical by too many years in church leadership. I now know that she was simply being very honest and realistic. It was more the case that I was young, inexperienced, and idealistic about the church. I have come to appreciate her honesty and the reality that Christ’s bride has a long way to go to achieve the vision to which she was called. Even so, I am fundamentally a believer in the role of The Church as Christ’s instrument to live out his desire for his people in fulfilling the Great Commandment….to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Maybe the crux of the problem is that too few are loving and accepting of themselves well enough to know how to love and accept others because they do not know the extravagant and unconditional love of Christ well.
Last evening I went with a friend to visit a woman whose husband had died Friday. We went to extend comfort, consolation, encouragement, and hope and found among us a firm agreement that Christ is our strength, God’s will is perfect, and in our grief we find the consolation of his Holy Spirit. As we prepared to leave she said to me, “I have the sense that we have met before. I’m sure we have talked before.” I said, “For sure the Jesus in me is acquainted with the Jesus in you and we are sisters by his Spirit!” She agreed and we shared our joy with a warm hug as we parted company. We had a lovely visit and I expect we will be new friends enjoying the fellowship of Christ whenever we meet! THAT is “church” regardless of which building any of us choose to celebrate our community of faith in on Sunday!
Can you name your church…….the people who are standing tall, looking to God, firmly rooted in Christ, and living with the evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The ones who are shoulder to shoulder with you so that when the weight of life bears down they are the pillars who share it with you? THAT is your church….not the building, not the preacher, not the denomination, not those who share a style of worship, not those who speak a creed they don’t live, or wear the name of One they don’t even truly know.
When someone says “Where’s your church?” I think I’ll start saying…”Bill, Pam, Jennifer, Joni, Billy, Charlotte, Tim, Carol, Ron, the grandchildren, Debbie, Kathie, Norma, Becky, Miranda, Mary, Doris, Cinda, Craig, Sylvia, Summer, Pat, Bob, Sheila, Terry, Sheri, Yvonne, Helen, Diane, Jane, Cindy,…….(and on and on!).” My church is wherever the Spirit of God resides and that is in the hearts of those who believe in Christ (and in some of those who are being wooed by Christ and just haven’t recognized him yet!)
“Church” is a matter of who and for whom….. not where, what, when, or how. And it is most certainly why…..for the sake of Christ’s kingdom in the world!