This is an open letter — a response in one of the few ways I know how. It’s mostly just going to be a stream of consciousness that could ultimately turn into a longer conversation.
Dear 1950’s style church member, thank you.
I used to be you. My “theology” matched your theology. Our “doctrines” aligned. The “church,” as I believed it, was the most important thing. When the doors were open, we knew we were supposed to be in the “church.”
I wasn’t there this week but the funny thing is, as much as ever, I believe we’re supposed to be in the church. I want to teach my boys this. I want to set this example for others. I want the world to know the Jesus that I know.
I think (mostly because I don’t know your internal motives), in that regard, we’re one and the same.
Except for the fact that we’re miles apart. In sports terms, we’re so far apart, we’re not even playing the same game.
What’s changed? The church? Nope.
What has changed for me is the simple fact that I missed the boat for so long. For entirely too long, I viewed those four walls, those padded pews, those hard-bound song books, that air conditioning, those vaulted ceilings, and the 9:00am once-per-week 45-minute dive into scripture as the Church. Here’s some examples of my previous ways of thinking:
- “Hurry and finish your breakfast, we’ve got to get to church.”
- “Nah, sorry, we can’t do that on Wednesday night; we’ve got church.”
- “What time does church start?”
- “Can you run up to the church and grab X?”
- “Hey friend, (I know it’s a little awkward but) are you interested in going to church with me?”
Sound familiar? I promise I can go on.
You know what changed? Me. When I realized a little while back that our “theology” — as you might be inclined to passively throw in my face on Facebook — doesn’t line up nearly as much as it used to.
What amazes me is that you truly think that your take on doctrine is the only Truth there is. The simple fact you emphasize your one building; in your one-horse town; of your one denomination (even when you say you’re not a denomination) as the “Church” is completely opposite of what the Bible you stand on teaches.
My seat was empty on Sunday
My kids play sports and I get that back in your day things looked a little different. You had Blue Laws, I’ve heard all about them. And you just knew that if Christ returned on a Sunday or Wednesday night and you weren’t in your assigned seat at church, you lost your place in line. I totally understand your thinking, that crap is hard to shake.
And look, I’m probably the last guy you want offering up Jesus returns prophesies to you but I’m fairly certain you can count on a couple of things:
1. Jesus doesn’t care about what your building looks like.
2. If he showed up on a Sunday and upon his return He just luckily sauntered into your place of worship, He’d be disheartened at what He saw. I don’t think He’d be turning-tables mad but I do think He’d be sad that you shot-your-shot at creating His perfect church and you missed so badly.
You wanna know why I know this?
Cause Jesus didn’t ever once call a building the “Church.” And in his years of ministry, never once did He set aside two days a week to go to “church.” And never did He say, ‘those who enter this building with the wood-paneling and temperature-controlled baptistry will be called my Church.’
Nope. He pretty much said the opposite. For his entire ministry. Until the day he died and he called out in agonizing pain: “Father, forgive them, because they still have no idea what they’re doing.” (paraphrasing, mine)
You’re probably gonna read this and think, “we don’t read the same book.” You’re wrong.
I think if you’ll take a look back through that Book you read with honest and fresh eyes, you might see something a little different. I did.
What you probably won’t see is that point where Jesus laid out the scriptural times of worship of 10:00am, 6:00pm, and Wednesday night at 7:00pm. Adjusted accordingly for time change, of course.
As I point out above, He never actually calls a building the church. Nor does He call it, “going to church”; “going to the church”; “worshiping at the church”; “running by the church”; or any other mis-verbification you can come up with.
What does He say then? Well, He does tell Peter (in Matthew’s account) that on him, He will build His church. So we’ve got that. But I’m fairly certain that statement alone doesn’t mean Jesus hired Peter as a general contractor to go out and get a bunch of sub-contractors and an architect to build a physical building with a steeple and a pulpit. (But again, I don’t have a Masters in Theology.)
Wanna know what Jesus talked about more than a church? Like 100 times more? A Kingdom. And not one far away. Not one down the road in the future. And definitely not one that was made for the humans of this world to rule over each other with.
“The kingdom of God is near” is kind of a weird thing to hear, right? I’m like, “hey Jesus, what’chu mean by that?”
Since you asked, here’s my measly, human interpretation…
“I’m Jesus. I’m here. I’m building something far better than you can ever imagine. It ain’t a building. It doesn’t need a time slot. It doesn’t leave people out. It doesn’t require a great (or terrible) speaker each week. All I ask is that you love me and take care of my people. I’m the kingdom and I’m right here. Near you. Bueno?”
also (and equally as important)…
“Don’t forget something… the people. The ones who are lost. The ones who have walked away. The ones who have never heard. The ones who are broken. The ones who are misguided. The ones who want nothing to do with me or with you. The ones who say the most filthy, vile, and vulgar things about me (and you). They’re really freaking important to me.
And you know what? Now maybe you should write this one down… I’m kind of partial to this one… love them. Go after them. Please go after them. With all of your heart, soul, mind, and might. They’re not always going to be in the places you are. In fact, they’re rarely going to be in the place you feel the safest. Please, please, please, go after them and love them. Just as they are. You do that and I’ll work my magic as well, together we can bring them home. To the church. Not the building. To my church; my kingdom; my place of rest.
I was at a baseball game on Sunday (six, actually)
Look, my kids play sports. On Sunday. And I know that annoys the hell out of you. And we post pictures about it. And we celebrate it.
You know what else we celebrate? The fact that we are with the church. My boys know it. They know they’re called to such a higher standard than the world sets. They know Christ comes first. They know the Love of the Lord. They know the songs. They know we long for times to sit in and worship with like-minded believers to be refreshed and encourage each other.
They also know they’re called to so much more.
Those 10 other kids on the team? The 10-15 families associated with those kids? Holy moly, who better to teach them about Jesus, His love for them, and their place in the Kingdom than us? Than my wife? Than my boys? That’s a church. That’s a mission.
You know what we have no ambitions of? That .0296% chance of becoming a professional athlete that you post about on social media. We don’t talk about it. We don’t encourage it. We also don’t shoot it down when our kids say, “dad, I wanna be a baseball player when I grow up!” You want to know why? Cause I wanted to play baseball when I grew up too and you know who didn’t shoot that down? Every adult ever. Let the kids dream and play. (It’s scientifically-proven good for their brains.)
I get that you don’t get it. I get that this will stir so many of the wrong and unintended emotions in you but you’ve gotta understand that the “Church” as you know it is on the decline and part of that — from my simple estimation — is simply due to the fact that you’ve thumbed your nose at both believers and non-believers alike who do not exactly align with your doctrine. Different doesn’t equal wrong.
Love God and love your neighbor. I can’t do the second without the first and if I don’t do the second, I’ve failed this test miserably.
On any given Sunday I might be at a baseball field, but hopefully someday you’ll come to the realization that my family and I are as much or more a part of His church than you’ve ever taken the leap of faith to be.
So, Thank you. Thank you for outing yourself once again. Thank you for setting the stage for me to finally put something down on paper (this has been a few years coming). Thank you for giving me material to once again reinforce the teachings of Jesus with my kids. Thank you for reminding me that Jesus is really important. His teachings should be heard, especially by the lost — those who need it most.
What I hope my boys never inherit is a short-sided view of what Christians — followers of Christ — are supposed to be. Your “church” will likely continue down a slow path of attrition and death but Christ’s Church will endure forever. I hope they choose the latter.