Does Church Have A Future? (2)
Among the commandments that Moses received from God was the instruction to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Hundreds of years later, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
What does it mean for us, the people of God, to love God with all that we are and all that we have and all that we do? What Jesus is commanding is a love that gives entirely of itself, holding nothing back; in the same way that God gave of himself to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Such a love is holistic, for it considers everything that is good as sacred because everything that is good comes from God. The whole of life is to be God-centred and the life of the individual is a part of the life of the community of God, in which there is fullness of expression. Such a holistic love is the love of the organised and integrated whole community that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
Our love for God is to flow from the very centre of our being, springing from our values, our commitments, our treasure; flowing out from his people as they express the deliberate love for their God and show that love in the way that they love and care for one another. This love is not only to be the love of the individual for Christ; it is to be the love of the whole believing community, the church, for Christ, who is the head of the church.
The church is a people who together are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that they may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called them out of darkness into his marvellous light. Peter’s declaration sets the church apart from being merely a collection of individuals and sees a big vision for the community of believers with big purposes in mind. Peter goes on to address many areas of life as he enlarges on the significance of what it means to be God’s people.
Likewise the apostle Paul saw beyond a collection of individuals as he wrote to the churches for which he cared so deeply. For example, ‘to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.’
This is a holistic view of God’s people, the church, and the vastness of Paul’s vision is breathtaking. The apostle does not write to the church at Corinth (for example) and say that certain areas are sacred while others are secular; rather he addresses every area that needs to be addressed and he excludes nothing from his attention.
Likewise as closes his first letter to Corinth, he includes many other individuals and churches in his final greetings, and in doing so he lifts the vision of the church at Corinth to see the big picture of which they are a part.
I believe that church in the twenty-first century has lost this holistic view, this big vision. Life in Scotland (as elsewhere) has become greatly compartmentalised into areas such as work, play, family and so on. One such area is church, and it is an area that has been isolated and reduced to being of no importance in the ‘real world’.
This compartmentalisation of life has deeply impacted the church, and it has also deeply impacted the way that we relate to God through Jesus. Thus, we speak of God being in control of some areas of our lives, but not of others. This has the effect of compartmentalizing our love for God, and has us only seeking to express that love in areas that we consider to be sacred.
We think that God is too big and too busy to bother with the little details of our lives, and especially so in secular areas where he has no interest. This kind of thinking is, I believe, widespread amongst God’s people.
The result is that the church’s love for God is no longer holistic, an organised and integrated whole, but it, too, has been broken up into areas and each area somehow treated as if it were a whole. Thus, we speak of receiving Jesus as Saviour or receiving Jesus as Lord, as if Jesus himself were divided or compartmentalised.
Therefore, we behave quite differently in church on a Sunday than we do on any other day of the week. We have lost the big vision of God and of his church, and we no longer love God with a holistic love that gives entirely of self, but our love is a fragmented and faded shadow of what it should be and perhaps once was.
The apostle Paul was well used to dealing with churches whose love and vision were in a state of disintegration, and his letter to the church at Galatia is a good example. ‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?’
If we as a believing community do not whole-heartedly love God, then we can hardly be surprised when he appears distant and detached from us. This does not mean that we earn his presence by how much we love him, but it does mean that God will be manifest in the midst of his people where they are close to his heart.
If the church in our land has lost its whole-hearted love for God, we can hardly be surprised if the church is powerless, presence-less and purposeless; and that, by and large, is what the church is like in our land. The church’s holistic love for God lies shattered and broken, and the visible evidence of this is that we do not fulfil the mandate that God has given to us. God’s love for the nation cannot get out from the church, and so Jesus is not proclaimed as Lord by word and deed, and disciples are not being made.
No wonder, then, that the church in our land is declining numerically, and also in its influence upon the nation and the people of the nation. The solution to this situation does not lie in PowerPoint presentations, subtle lighting or new hymn books. I do not in any way criticise these things or imply that they are unimportant; by all means let the church be up to date and use up-to-date technology; but these are all methods, and the issue is not methodology, but our identity in Christ as the church and expressing that identity through deeds.
How we love God and express that love to other people lies at the heart of our identity as (a part of) the church, and this involves the whole of our lives. To rediscover who and what we are in Christ and to rediscover a total love for God will impact the land in which we live, and will cause the people in our land to once again know that there is something uniquely special about the church that is in their midst.
The issue here is not at all about activity but rather identity, and this involves all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do. We are called as God’s people to love God with all of our being first, and then with all our doing, and such a holistic love will certainly deeply impact the people around us.