13 April, 2008

To the Church or to God?

I was watching a movie the other night and a pastor in the film made a comment on how they had done a good job of leading people to the church - but they had not led them to God. An interesting and vital difference that is often overlooked.

People are disillusioned with the church and therefore are disillusioned with God. And yes, the church is an extension of God on earth, but I have to wonder how often the people in the church, from the visitors to the leadership, are involved with the congregation but not involved with God.

Could it be that when we see someone radically in love with God, all we mean to say is they've been led to God and we have not?

I have been struggling with this idea a lot in the last year or so. Since moving to DC and arriving at a very GOD centered church - a church centered on Him not just in word, but deed and heart - I have wondered how many other places have completely missed the mark. And is it that so many churches, and therefore Christians, are so off base and counter-biblical because they've been pulled in by the building, but never actually met the Maker?

The movie was about reconciliation in Rwanda. Seems pretty impossible to me. How can you forgive someone who machete-ed your family? How can you live beside them? How can you not seek revenge? How can you look at them and not just weep? I don’t know. I couldn’t. I can’t forgive people for less. But the movie made me realize that forgiveness isn’t for the other person – it’s for us. It’s so we can talk about something without it making us angry or making us cry or making us paralyzed. It’s so we have freedom – and that person and whatever they did to us (which is justifiably wrong) doesn’t get to continue that wrong. Yeah, you forgive even if you don’t feel it and as you do so the hatred falls away. And that doesn’t mean that the loss or the offense doesn’t still affect us, and that it wasn’t a major act against us – but it doesn’t get to control us anymore.

In the move they were talking to a bishop who was speaking to why the church failed to act during the genocide, and how some pastors could actually help kill the people in their church. And beyond the general evil that just invaded Rwanda at that time, he made the point that the clergy had done a really good job of inviting people to the church, but had failed miserably to invite people to God. And in that moment I had a confirmation of something I had felt for a while. The church, and the American church in particular, is really good at getting people in its doors, but absolutely awful at getting people to God. Because to get to God, to really get to God, is hard. It requires change, it requires casting off chains, it requires submission, and pain, and doing what’s not comfortable or intuitive. It means loving the poor – yeah, that homeless man over there, as much as you love your family. It means getting involved in your neighbors’ lives and calling people out on their lust and their affairs and their self-destructive habits. To truly love God is to welcome prosecution. It’s to turn away from what’s easy and sit with a beggar. It’s to leave my life of comfort and lie with prostitutes. It is to open your home to the mentally disabled; an elderly woman you do not know, the weary traveler in need of water, and realizing that the more we love the more God will give us to continue on.

In the end, we have to look at the church as a very, very, very flawed machine and be the change we wish to see. When we love someone we have to love them passed what we can give and invite them into a relationship with One who knit them together. It’s about stepping aside and in humility inviting another to be at the table.

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© Amanda Lunday