Just a Thought

I mentioned Sunday morning that I sometimes feel like Rip Van Winkle.  I have woken to find that I’ve been asleep for the last 20 years and the world has changed.  Well, I haven’t been asleep, but the world has changed.  Church has always been central to my life.  I’ve never known a stretch of time in my life without church.  We like to think that America is a Christian nation.  While it is true that faith has played a major role in our nation’s culture and history, the Church’s influence is waning.  According to a recent New York Times article, “For the first time in Gallup polling, only a minority of adults in the United States belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque.”  Another source states, "We are currently experiencing the largest and fastest religious shift in the history of our country."  We’ve known for some time the fastest growing group, religiously, is the “Nones.”  Nones are those who claim no affiliation with any church or religious group.  In the time I’ve been pastor here 4 churches with long histories in our community have gone out of existence.  Most, if not all, of the rest of us have experienced significant decline.  It is a disturbing development.  Some suggest that 40 million adults have stopped going to church in the last 25 years.  Not all of those have abandoned the faith.  They’ve not stopped believing in God, but they no longer see the value of “going to church.”  For them, church attendance is optional.  It’s not essential to being Christian.  Therein is the real tragedy and the failure of the Church.  We’ve done a poor job of teaching what it means to belong to Christ and how the Church is essential to life in Christ.

I say that the Church is essential to the Christian life because it was central to the mission of the Lord Jesus.  He came to redeem a people.  He gave his life for the Church, the assembly (Ephesians 5:25).  Jesus said, “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18).  Further, he commands us to “gather in his name” (Matthew 18:20).  To come to faith in Christ is to be baptized into his body, the Church” (1 Corinthians 12:13).  The writer of Hebrews declares, “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves to gather…even more as the day draws near” (Hebrews 10:25).  It is in the church we encourage, strengthen, equip one another and grow in the faith.  We bear one another’s burdens we weep with those who weep, and we rejoice with those who rejoice.  There is no justification, in Scripture, for the just “me and my Bible” style of Christianity.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you.”  The ear cannot say to the arm, “I have no need of you.”  We, the people of God, are dependent upon one another.  We are to live together as a body, as a family.  It takes all of us, together, to be what God has called us to be.

Now, like all bodies, there are times portions of the body give us fits.  “My shoulder is stiff I can hardly move it.”  When that happens, it affects the whole of my body.  It limits what I can do, and I hurt all over.  Your refusal to take part in the life of the church, affects everyone else and limits the church.  Like all families, there are times when folks get crossways with one another.  When that happens, it doesn’t just affect you and that one that your upset with, it affects the whole family.  Everyone’s life is disrupted, and the family is fractured.  It cannot be otherwise because we are connected.  

I say all of this to explain why the studies mentioned earlier are disturbing.  What happens when an increasing number of folks say, “The church doesn’t matter, I’m just going to drop out?”  What happens when more and more just stop participating?  The body is crippled.  And the members that refuse to function?  They atrophy.  They waste away, deteriorate they decline.  Your refusal to be part of the church doesn’t just harm the church, it harms you.  John Wesley once visited a wayward church member.  It was a cold, wintry day and Wesley and his parishioner sat by the fire warning themselves as they talked.  The man explained that he didn’t need the church.  Wesley listened patiently and as the man spoke Wesley used the poker to drag a burning coal from the fire unto the stone floor.  After some time, Wesley called the man’s attention to the now cold coal.  He said to the man, “Look what happens when you remove the coal from the fire.  Such is the man who removes himself from Christ’s church.  Your faith, once vibrant and red-hot, grows cold.  Friend, don’t so endanger your soul.”

The church matters.  It is essential to your faith.  For your sake and for the sake of our fellowship embrace the church.  Give yourself to the church for the glory of Christ and for the sake of your soul.  We will talk more about this in the weeks to come.

Don’t forget Sunday is our First Sunday Lunch, I hope you will join us.

Have a great week!