I’ve been thinking a lot recently what exactly is a church. I mean, obviously it isn’t the building and I do find it good to think of a church as just a rain shelter as my old vicar said once. And, a church is a group of people, who are all centred around Jesus Christ. But, it isn’t that simple sadly. We do add our own criteria to what a church should be as well.
Went back to my old church on Christmas Eve (the one which I went to when I was a child) and realised that in my mind I had completly written it off as a place where Christians gathered and instead had it pegged as somewhere where there was a lot of people who had done things that had hurt me when I was a teenager and that didn’t preach the gospel. Now, it is true that there are a lot of people in that church who had hurt me when I was younger but that was 9 years ago now, how should I now view them – now that I am a Christian which I wasn’t then!
I wrote them off very quickly in my head as a church that doesn’t preach the Bible, full of people who aren’t really Christians. This may be true but should I have done that? No! Although I was proved right by the Christmas Eve Christingle service having absolutley no gospel input I had already judged them before I arrived and were almost waiting for them to fall. There’s background and there’s reasons but that’s not the point.
Got round to thinking about the way in which we do judge other churches and other Christians (by we I’m meaning conservative evangelicals). It’s so easy to judge people on the ways in which they do things such as which version of the bible they use, which songs they sing, who their congregation includes and say that they aren’t a real church because of x, y and z. Basically that they don’t do things exactly the same way that we do.
How does this appear to outsiders? When we have very definite, judgemental ideas about how a church should be and therefore judge other churches how does it look to non Christian? Like there’s actually lots of different forms of Christianity who are all claiming to be the right, and only true believers of the gospel. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t Christian denominations who do things that I think are totally wrong and not from the Bible but surely the main definition of a group of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important thing to look for before judging them as an unbiblical church?
As part of my masters, we have lots of discussions in the lectures about things such as baptism, salvation and so on. There’s a huge wealth of opinion in the room as there is Anglicans, Romanian Orthodox, Catholics, Salvation Army to name but four (I’m sure I’ve missed some one off!) and there’s no way that we agree in anyway shape or form on most of these issues. Interestingly a Buddhist/Hindu has joined our course recently and it was one of her comments last week that got me thinking about this again. For our assignment we have to write from our own tradition (denomination) point of view, and the Buddhist is meant to try and do it from a Christian point of view (as it is a Christian masters) and she said
“How am I meant to do it from a Christian point of view when you all disagree with one another and don’t agree on anything!”.
It’s a good point! What are we showing people about our attitudes to church when we all disagree? How can people see the beauty of the church when all they see is inter fighting between denominations. Surely we should be aiming to seek fellowship with other church traditions as much as possible, rather than looking for reasons why they aren’t bible teaching in the ‘right’ way, or worshipping in the ‘right’ way or even praying in the ‘right’ way!! We should look for the good!