Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who owns your church?

Today I gave up trying to think about our economy. It lies in tatters, lamely flopping in the breezes blowing through it. ("Our" is probably trans-national in meaning, as America's cold has become the world's flu).

So, I turn my thoughts to one other intractable, seemingly impossible problem that afflicts me: church as we know it. If Ghandi were living here, he would still say, "I would become a Christian if it weren't for you Christians." Jesus rightly cautioned, "If the salt loses its saltiness, it is not good for anything but to be thrown out..." I somehow believe--if I could really see all the connections--there is some relation between our anemic church, our comatose country and our eerie economy.

So, what is wrong with this Body? Materialism? Yes, that's obvious. Immorality? Yes, any blind man can see that. Hypocrisy? As obvious as a Hawaiian shirt among Mormon missionaries. Lacking compassion? A dearth of faith? Judgmental superiority? These things mock us by the legacy we leave as self-announced followers of Jesus.

But, I have been wondering lately if the answer isn't simpler than that. Here is the question: Why is the church as we know it so far removed from the church as God wants it? Here is the answer that keeps coming to me: it is a matter of ownership.

Who owns your church? Is it your denomination? Your congregation? Your board of leaders? Your pastor? Your house group? You? No one? I have been pondering this lately. The denominational churches are easy to spot. But, who owns "Grace Church: It's Amazing"? "Jesus Is Real Ministries"? "H2O"? When I pry a little, there is always some person, persons, organization or non-organization-organization that owns/controls/directs them. And, therein lies the problem. THEIR church can never be the church God intended because that one is exclusively owned by Jesus: "I will build MY church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

Here is what I am really looking for when I read a church website: "Jesus owns this church. He directs it by the Holy Spirit. It can be messy, and at times we really blow it like the early churches did. Sometimes all we can say is, Thank God for the mercy of Jesus, because we really screw things up. We can think of no good reason to join our church over any other--we have ALL the problems others do because we are made up of the same sinners they are. In fact, our church is below average. But Jesus--HE is amazing. Call on His name, and belong to Him. HE will never let you down. We are trying to get over our pet theologies and narrow moralities to become merciful, loving and just like Jesus, but we have a long way to go. While we stumble toward the light, we thank God for the Coming Savior from Heaven who will deliver us from this body of death."

But, I never read that. Usually, they explain why their particular emphasis is the best thing since sliced bread, and why I should hop on board the Love Boat First Church of What's Happening Now Best Preacher Ever Hippest Musicians Anywhere Funnest Kids Program--Really, We're Not Making This Up.

We put way too much emphasis on "church" and way too little emphasis on ownership. Jesus is Lord--that means He owns me--if He is really my Lord. There are no commands at all about building the organization of the church, but there are boatloads of commands that require compliance and obedience. Our job: teach and practice obedience to ALL He commands. His job: "I will build MY church."

Summary of my simplistic oversimplification: We spend way too much time on "building our church," and forget Who the real owner is. It is Jesus' church. Maybe we need to crash our websites, tear down our lighted sign boards, give up our catchy marketing slogans and come back under the Name that is above every name: Jesus' Church. Our slogan: Definitely not worthy, but grateful for the big break He cut us. We are worse than you think--and He is way more loving than you can imagine!