Tag Archives: Church Museums

“Go to the world” not just “Go to Church”

 

Why should we go to church?   Do we go to seek healing from our “brokenness”?  Do we go to seek God’s will for our lives together with others who are searching for the same thing?    Do we go there to worship God?   Do we go for the beautiful music and the good feelings we have as we listen to it?   Do we go because it is a requirement for salvation?  Do we go to learn together with fellow Christians how to be disciples of Jesus?   Bingo!   You’ve got it!!

What is it that the church does that we should support it?   Are we discipling people so that they can go into the world and fulfill Jesus’ commission?   If we are not doing that, then perhaps we should support it as a nice social club, but not because it is the Church of Jesus Christ—because it isn’t.

In my opinion,most churches have things all turned around.   In our selfishness and our conceit we think that the church is a building or group of people that exists somehow for our benefit.    Isn’t that what all of the above, except the last statement,  is saying?

Instead of “going to churchhave we considered thechurch going to the world?”

Jesus, the itinerant preacher, early in his career visited his home synagogue of Nazareth. It was the equivalent of “going to church” today.   As he was already gaining fame, he was asked to read from the scrolls..  He read a passage taken from Isaiah 61,  and he so infuriated them with his remarks after the reading that the synagogue as a body rose up in rage and took him and tried to throw him off a cliff outside the town.   (Read Luke: 4:14-30 for the details!)   Clearly the synagogue wasn’t in agreement when Jesus read his job description:   The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.   He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.   They especially weren’t impressed when he told them he (Jesus) was the one that Isaiah was talking about.  I can almost hear them say:   “What is all this claptrap about the poor and the oppressed and the blind?  Who does this simple carpenter’s son think he is anyway?   What does all this stuff have to do with our church (synagogue)”?

If you read the gospels that tell of Jesus, it had everything to do with what churches should be doing.    Jesus never founded a church.   He never taught that people should go to church.   Jesus committed the “good news of the gospel”to those who were his disciples.  The church should be the gathering of those disciples today.    You can read his commission to his disciples  several places in the New Testament:   In Matthew 28: 19-20 he commissioned them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.   And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

A similar commission to his disciples is found in Acts 1:7-8 :   It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.   But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The purpose of the church is to make disciples If you are one of those disciples then your commission is to “GO INTO THE WORLD” , not just to  “go to church.”   

There is a world that is hurting outside the doors of our churches.   There are children that are hungry.   There is massive poverty.   There is lack of medical care.   There are people who are mentally ill not getting help.   There are oppressed people.   There are people in prison.   There are people trying to turn their lives around.   There are hopeless people that need a word of hope.   There are people in despair.   There are people in mourning over the death of a loved one.   There are people who are warehoused in nursing homes with no family.  There are people who are victims of human trafficking.   There are people dying alone.   There are people with no housing, living on the streets.

All of these are people to whom Jesus send us as his disciples, his church, when we “go into the world.”

All of these are people who need to hear and see in the lives of Jesus’ disciples the “good news” that God loves them and will care for them through Jesus’ disciples—that’s us!   We need to go to church to prepare to be disciples, but we need to then go to the world and fulfill the commission given to Jesus’ disciples—-the church.

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Sell the Building, Keep the Church

There are many churches struggling today “to keep their doors open”.    Perhaps they are struggling for the wrong reason.   Perhaps in this post-modern, emergent church environment that we are in today the best thing that could happen  to those churches is to close the doors of their church building so that the Church of Jesus Christ  can survive.

Recently, in Wichita, the Fairview Christian Church (Dsciples of Christ) sold its building.   They are now meeting in a “house church” environment and no longer have the expense  of an old building that needed extensive repairs  that took  their time and money to maintain.   The building is gone, but the Church—-the body of Christ—survives!   They made a painful but Christ-like decision to solve their problem.   Sell the building, keep the Church.  They chose what was important—their relationship to God and to each other over property.

As we read about the “early church” in Acts there is no mention of a “church building“.   Paul doesn’t mention a “church building” either, and  we know that at least one of the churches Paul founded (the church at Philippi)    met in the house of Lydia.   Paul, the earliest writer in the New Testament,  described the churches he founded as” the body of Christ”, with Christ as its head and all the rest of the members being the eyes, toes, legs, arms, feet, etc.—not a building, but a living organism!!

The Gospel of  Luke tells the story of Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler who came to Jesus  and asked “what can I do to inherit eternal life?”    Jesus replied that he should follow all the commandments.   The young man said he had done that from his youth.  “then Jesus looked at him and said “There is still one thing lacking.  Sell all you have and give the money to the poor….and come, follow me.”   (Luke 18:18-25)  Luke tells us that the man went away sorrowful because he had great possessions.   He was unable to do what Jesus asked.

In Wichita I live around the corner from  a huge, beautiful church building.    This megachurch offers  everything from a coffee shop to a book store, to a full sized gymnasium.  The building  features  the most expensive and best sound and projection equipment in order to  entertain those who attend.  It hires professional musicians to provide the music on that sound and projection system.  Expensive electronic signs advertise what is being offered—-all kinds of workshops, support groups, youth clubs, etc.    I wonder what Jesus would think if he saw his name connected to this megachurch? Let me give my answer to that question by re-telling the story of the rich young man in modern terms.

The story might go like this:     The Senior Pastor and the staff of eight from First Megachurch came to Jesus one day and asked him how best they might be His Church.    Jesus looked at them  and said to them: “One thing you lack.  Go, sell your beautiful church building and all its furnishings and give all the money to the poor and come and follow me and help me care for the “least of these, your brothers and sisters –-the homeless, the outcasts, the poor, the sick, the mentally challenged.  Use some of the money to work for fair wages for the poor, and for economic and political and social justice for all.”       And the Senior Pastor and staff went away sorrowfully because they couldn’t give up their beautiful building and its furnishings.  And Jesus shook his head and shed a tear as he watched them leave him!

Sell the building—-Keep the Church!   Is this the way of discipleship?   what do YOU think??

“Doing church or Being church?”

All of us who have been or are connected with mainline churches have heard the lament many times:   “He/She always went to Sunday School and church.  I can’t understand why they did the bad things they did.”   Or:   “Their children always were in church and Sunday School, but now we never see them.   Why?”

I know there are many answers to these questions, but I would like to suggest one that appears broad enough to cover many of the children who have “gone wrong” or the children “who never darken a church’s door now.”

It is my experience that these children were taken to church and Sunday School and were taught how to “do church”, but the church failed to teach them how to “be church.”

Diana Butleri Bass , in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us recounts the story of her life growing up in a Methodist church and remarks that she learned how to “do church”,  how to take communion, how to fix casseroles for fellowship dinners,  how to be obedient, how to do the rituals of the church—-but never did she have any instruction in how to “be church“.

All of us know that there is a difference between “doing church” and “being church“, but what is it exactly?   In my opinion “doing church” is a matter of being busy, busy busy,  with committee meetings, church attendance,  decorating for fellowship dinners, planning  programs and carrying them out, fixing the Lord’s Supper,  and doing all the jobs we are asked to do to keep the institution smoothly  running as a business might run.   I am in no way saying these do not need to be done, but they are not the most important  part of being Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ.   The above are all involved in “doing church“.

The important part, on  the other hand,  is “being church”    It is being a  functioning part of the body of Christ in this world— loving God and living in His Presence, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.   “Being church” is practicing our faith in daily life.  It is walking the walk that the people of the bible and  that Jesus and this disciples walked.  “Being Church” is being Christ’s body here right now in the present.   It is practicing radical hospitality as he practiced it.   it is taking up our cross daily, though that might lead to suffering and self-denial.  It is practicing passionate and Radical Christianity  in our communities, both spiritual and secular. 

Somehow we neglected to show our young people in all of the busy-ness of “doing church” what “being church” was all  about and its importance in living as a disciples of Jesus the Christ.  .   And one of the characteristics of the generation now in young adulthood  is that they are still searching for the meaning of “being church” but are put off by just being asked to “do church.”

Do you agree or disagree?   And if you agree with me, how can we change our practices and teaching in our declining mainline churches so that we do not produce another generation like the one who has rejected the church?

Rather than lament the past, let’s concentrate on changing the future!

Church Buildings or Museums? Pilgrims or Tourists?

Our church buildings are becoming museums of Christianity containing the relics of the Christian religion as it was once was but is no more!  By the end of the present century, if present trends revealed to us by writers such as Diana Butler Bass and Phyllis Tickle concerning “emergent-Christianity” are valid, most of our church buildings may have only historical value.

I remember in 1994, not too long after the fall of the Soviet Union, standing in the Cathedral of St. Isaac in St. Petersburg, Russia.   I was not there to worship and seek God as a pilgrim.   I was there as a tourist to “see the sights”.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest of many cathedrals in the city of St. Petersburg  built by Tsar Peter the Great, was built by order of Tsar Alexander I in the years 1818-1858.   It took 40 years to construct this magnificent building.   It’s massive dome is covered with pure gold.  Inside it is all marble with beautiful columns covered in lapis lazule so perfectly it looks like the columns are solid lapis lazuli.   Outside, the building is constructed of stone with 112 red granite columns with Corinthian capitals— each column hewn and erected as a single block.

St. Isaac’s is a beautiful museum for an earlier Christian Orthodox religion.  But today it is a museum.    Services are held only in one small part of this awesome building—a small chapel.   The rest of the visitors, who come each year by the thousands, are tourists who come to see this magnificent structure.   As tourists, they come and see and admire the building—-they do not come as pilgrims seeking God.    Then they leave—never to return in most cases because they have seen the building.

As a pastor, I have experienced this same phenomenon in many churches I have served who lovingly construct and care for their beautiful building, and then do not have the money to spend for ministry and outreach. Many of these church buildings that once housed many are rapidly becoming   huge well-cared-for museum of the Christian religion with a small enough number of members that a small chapel would suffice for their worship services.

Those who come to these churches come to admire their beauty ((as Idid St. Isaac’s) but they are not seeking to find God in the building.   They come as “tourists” to see the beautiful stained glass windows, to sit in soft, cushioned seats in the beautiful sanctuary and  listen to the organ (an instrument they feel is already a relic of the past), to sing hymns (many that were written in the words of and for an era long past their experience).    These “tourists” (we sometimes call them “Visitors”) come and admire and enjoy it all and then they are gone.   Few return.  They’ve seen it!   They’ve heard it!  But these folks are still pilgrims in search of a God to be revealed to them who can make a difference in their lives and the lives of others—-a God whom they can serve; a God that cares about humankind.

They look at these beautiful church buildings and often wonder if the money spent on them and organs and sound equipment, etc. might better be spent in helping the needy and the poor.

Richard Rohr, in his book “A Lever and a Place to Stand” writes:  “when our windows have too much self–conscious dressing hanging on them, you often never see beyond the window itself.   Much of “high church” is still back in the days of the book of Leviticus, written by the priests in love with ‘smells and bells’, and too preoccupied with the sanctuary instead of the world and the people God is suffering with.”  (p. 51)

You see, most Christians who claim to follow Jesus, have not learned that to be His disciple is not about beautiful  buildings, its not about rituals in those buildings—-its about loving relationships with fellow humans and with God out in the world where the pain and the suffering and the brokeness is.   It is about serving the people as Rohr puts it that “God is suffering with.”

A recent church I served as interim pastor developed a wonderful program to feed the needy a full meal every Friday.   They developed a food pantry for times in between and a clothing closet where items of used clothing were made available.    They were following in the steps of Jesus.    Then, just months after I left, they ended this program for the homeless and needy because a few feared for their safety and the safety of their beautiful church building.   The church board in an emergency meeting voted to close the program immediately before the next Friday, with no warning and no imput from many of the volunteers who worked in the program.

Now all this church needs to do is join with far too many other churchs in hanging out a new sign.   The sign should read:   CHURCH MUSEUM—NOW OPEN!