The President of the United States gives a speech every year entitled, “The State of the Union”. In that speech, he attempts to elaborate what is the current situation of the United States, and to express hopes about what the future might look like. It is interesting that this isn’t a practice first thought up by the President or his advisors. Luke, writing in the Bible book of Acts, began reporting on the state of the church many centuries before the Presidents ever thought of it. Throughout the book of Acts he writes regular reports on what the state of the church looks like at that particular time and place. It is clear that a regular and sober assessment of what the first church was involved in and where they were in God’s Master Plan was important to Luke.
It is a good idea to pause sometimes in the middle of much activity and think about where we are and where we are going. We followers of Jesus might well ask along with the writer Luke: what is the state of the church today? More specifically, what is the state of Meridian Point Church today?
Barry spoke this past week about where the church currently is, as well as some future hopes for what the church might look like in coming months and years. He made the crucial point that before we get to where the church is we might well ask what the church is? That is, what is the church supposed to be? We need to know that before we can know what it is supposed to do. The Bible makes it very clear that the church is a community of people, not a building. Yes, we say “we’re going to church” and by that we mean a building. But that way of speaking is really not very accurate. The church isn’t really the building, it’s the people. The apostle Paul took pains on several occasions to communicate that message to the church congregations. He pointed out again and again that it is the people who are the temple of God. The church of Jesus is the people in whom He is living and working! We don’t go to church, we are the church.
Getting that biblical idea right might well change much of how we think about the church, and how we live our lives (since now we are the church). We have already reminded ourselves that the church is not a building at a certain location. But there are other important implications of this new understanding of the church as well. If the church is a people in whom the Spirit of God is living and working, then I don’t go to church as a customer, demanding services or goods from the church. We who have received the Spirit of Jesus are not customers or consumers, we are partners and participants in this divine adventure. That’s what Jesus calls us to be.
Maybe this idea also changes other ways many people have thought about the church in the past. For example, maybe we don’t even come to the church building on Sunday mornings any more demanding to be “fed”—maybe the church is not a restaurant! Nor is it a gas station to get “fueled up” for the coming week, with the responsibility on the pastor or the worship team to do the fueling for us. These kinds of ideas have one common misunderstanding: that the church is a business, a service, that we come to in order to get something we want from it, and it is the church’s job to give us what we want.
But if the church is, as the Bible makes clear, a humble group of ordinary people who are being inhabited and transformed by the Holy Spirit of God, our ideas of what we should expect change dramatically. We now come to join them as one of this group of precious, humble servants, to labor alongside them for the great King and His Kingdom. It is Jesus, not us, who is the Center of everything! And it turns out that “the state of the church” doesn’t have to do with the condition of an institution or building or staff, but it has mostly to do with the state of our own hearts, the hearts of us who have joined together in this great pursuit of the Kingdom of God.
That dismisses once and for all every clamorous desire for something more. One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. Just at this point Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for community with the spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood. In Christian brotherhood everything depends upon its being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality. Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a human reality…. Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung up from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. [….]
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial….
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Submitted by Mike Johnson