Oh, you know the signs. Or maybe not. Now that we all shop online, are shopping mall directory signs any more familiar than 78 rpm records?
Trying to stand in the right place isn’t easy. All kinds of signs and symbols to figure out.
A lesson from the New Testament tries to orient us toward the presence of Christ in the church:
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:29-32)
While one meets some wonderful saints in most congregations (that is, gracious people who radiate the love of God and/or broken people, gratefully on the mend and praising God for His help), most churches are far from what that Bible passage describes.
evil talk… slander… Churches are epic gossip circles.
building up… Churches are like other organizations in that small groups look to self interest at the expense of the whole.
bitterness and wrath… American churches in particular are still in the throes of the “culture wars,” with many members more acutely defined by angry political positions than by identity in Christ.
kind, tender-hearted, forgiving… churches don’t do much better than any other gathering of human beings when it comes to these Christ-like qualities. In fact, they are just as likely as any other group of people to be dominated by mean, cold-hearted, self-righteous jerks.
It is a conundrum. The New Testament is very clear about followers of Jesus being part of the church, gathering with other believers to seek the Lord and help one another walk in His way. This is presented as urgent:
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23 NLT)
Of course there are no “perfect churches,” because there are no perfect people. But churches have become cavalier about this. There are very few testimonies to Christ-transformed lives to be heard in churches. If they are there, they’re pretty much concealed under a bunch of other priorities that take center stage (and stages or “platforms” really do replace pulpits and altars).
When Elijah was down in the dumps, God reassured him that there was a faithful remnant within the corrupt Kingdom of Israel. The Apostle Paul brings this up in the New Testament,
God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me” ? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (Romans 11:2-4 NIV)
May we be blessed to figure out the signs and symbols and stand in the place where Jesus and the mercy of God are welcomed and celebrated.