Gary Thomas has a line of Sacred _____ books — I really appreciated Sacred Marriage when I first read it, and am now enjoying a discussion group reading Sacred Parenting.
The basic gist is to think of _____ not as something designed or obligated merely to make you happy, but as an opportunity for growth in all sorts of ways, including sanctification / spiritual growth.
So what else could you put in the blank? Sacred Work… Sacred Chores… Sacred Traffic… Sacred Diaper-changing… Sacred Family… Sacred Social Network… Sacred Mental Illness…
How about Sacred Church?
Most of y’all know that finding a local church where we can breathe and feel at home has been a frustrating effort for us in the four years we’ve been here. I don’t think either of us is bent on some idea of perfect church — we know that every church has its flaws, annoyances, or whatever. We also have few illusions of our own perfection. And yet just about every church we’ve been to has had at least one issue that has felt serious enough to us that we couldn’t be at home there.
There’s the one where we scared the pastor with some of the theological and biblical questions and ideas we were interested in, to the point where he began questioning us to see if we were really saved. At that church, we also would not be able to be official members because of our stance on baptism — and likewise they would not have accepted Amy’s baptism. Oh, and that’s the church where the preschoolers in Sunday School sat on chairs the whole time, with no play or active time, with about fifty different lessons in one session, and each kid only got one crayon to color with while waiting for class to begin. Just as bad, in the other direction, as the church where there were videos and loud music in the nursery and candy given out in Sunday School.
There’s the one where a speaker, reminding the congregation that the pastoral staff were on their annual leadership retreat, compared the pastor to Moses, urging the congregation to accept whatever the pastor came back with as from the mouth of God. That’s also the church where, in the skit promoting the upcoming vacation Bible school, they talked about how they’d have good snacks, not the boring healthy stuff you get at school, and how they’d have fun activities, not the stupid boring story you get at the library.
What were we looking for?
The good news about Jesus, God’s merciful and compassionate work on our behalf and the amazing reconciliation he offers, with all motivation for good work and ministry flowing from ever-deeper understanding of his gracious love for us.
Sermons, music, kids’ programs, everything — geared to the Gospel, without flash and slick marketing, without a “vision,” without any “draw them in with X,” without cutesy clevernesses…
The Gospel, not “do more, try harder.” And it doesn’t make it the Gospel to just tack the word “grace” on the “get your act together” message — i.e. “Make sure grace is showing in your life by doing X.” Understanding grace does lead to good works — but not when grace is wielded as a lever against people.
I understand the reaction against the “Jesus is my boyfriend / buddy” image, but I don’t want to go to the other extreme to the tyrant upstairs, either. Truth is, God DOES love us, and we OUGHT to dwell on that and wallow in it and eat and drink it until it really sinks in.
After all, it’s his kindness that leads to repentance. Nobody really repents out of mere fear — not from the heart. When I read the Prodigal Son, I’m quite sure that the guy drafted his “repentance” speech in a way calculated to get him a bed and some money. I don’t think his heart melted until his father ran to meet him and lavished grace all over him.
Anyway, all this to say, last night it occurred to me that I could trust God to deliver me from / through church. Ha. Just like I trust him with any other situation that fills me with dread, upsets me, scares me, dismays or disappoints me, tempts me to bitterness, etc.
In the same way, I can do church “to the glory of God” just as I would do anything else, even when it’s not pleasant, even when someone doesn’t deserve it, even when there are real flaws present, etc.
What bitter cynics we are, lost and relatively alone in the sea of happy Christians, but not quite part of the other crowd(s) either.
What good news it is that God loves us and has lavished mercy and grace on us, and has promised to deal with our bitter cynicism along with every other evil, without maiming us in the process.