I'm not very far into this blogging adventure and yet several of the entries have, at least, touched on the problems inherent in groups. We exist in groups all the time and some are more pleasant than others. We choose close friends, in part, because of the agreement we have on various issues and the comfort we feel in their presence. On the other end, most of us have experienced the feeling illustrated in job placement services' commercials: being the only sane human in a room full of barely trained monkeys. All to ooften this feeling is at a job we don't feel we can afford to lose and are, therefore, trapped. Our feelings about our church usually fall somewhere in between these two extremes. When other church members (or pastors!) seem closer to the barely trained monkeys, some wonder, "Why do I put up with this?"
Over the years, many have protested that we don't need church. "My relationship with Jesus is personal so Jesus and me are sufficient to live the life He wants." It is easy to argue the other side by pointing out that Jesus established the church, the New Testament clearly testifies that gathering together was the habit of the earliest believers, and the author of the book of Hebrews commands us directly to not give up meeting together. This is all fine but it might be good to ask, "Why is this the case?" One of the fundamental assumptions of Christianity is God does not make up random rules according to a fickle nature. He sets rules and guidelines, like a perfect parent, that are for our protection and pleasure in the long run. So back to our question, "Why did Jesus design this group we call church?" Casual observation will make clear that we normally exist in groups so, on the one hand, Jesus has merely set up a system that accommodates our natural tendency. Surely there must be more.
In fact, our natural tendency is to form groups of people who look like us, talk like us, and think like us. I'm talking about way more than just the color of our skin. For some that is much less important than social status, music style, or political philosophy. It is easier to hang out with people who agree with us and like the same things. What Jesus has in mind appears to be quite a bit deeper. He is trying to bring the whole world back into a healthy relationship with Himself. The greatest evidence that this is, in fact, happening is that people otherwise unlike each other begin to bond to each other. Interestingly, the New Testament does not present an ideal fellowship but one with real conflict. As I heard Mark Dever say once, the conflicts of the early church (and contemporary churches) are opportunities to prove that "the Gospel is bigger" than whatever might divide us.
Church is not just a testimony to those outside of the faith, however. It also has a profound effect on the individual. We say people are "better" when they welcome others, accept differences, and "play well with others." The church uniquely provides both an opportunity and a reason to practice these choices. Further, for all the novelty of new thoughts and experiences, the past 2,000 years of believers provide a vast treasure of thoughts and practices to build upon for our current expression of the faith. No thinker is exempt from criticism and reform but neither is it wise to cast all of that aside in favor of my individual point of view. The church, maybe especially when we disagree, contains the means for our growth.
Unfortunately, we frequently succumb to the logic of careerbuilder.com. "If this job/church doesn't suit me, there must be another one down the road that will be better." To be certain, there are legitimate ethical reasons to change both employment and church affiliation. I'm afraid, however, the actual reasons we move are usually far less lofty and have much more to do with comfort than growth. Maybe the discomfort you feel now is just the rough edges coming off. The Chiseler may be going to work. Resist the urge to run. Lean in.