The above title is quoted from the Nicene Creed, a statement of belief I learnt as a child in the Anglican church. Here’s a true story: I repeated this creed in church long before I ever knew what it really meant. When we got to this line, I wouldn’t say it. I thought it meant I believed in the Roman Catholic church and I knew I didn’t. I have Catholic family so I had nothing against Catholics, I simply thought I shouldn’t say out loud I believed in the Catholic church because I knew I wasn’t Catholic. It wasn’t until years later that I learnt the true definition of catholic. Namely, universal. In the Nicene Creed, “catholic” refers to the church as a whole, worldwide.
I’ve been thinking a lot about church lately. More specifically, what is the purpose of the church and why do I go?
I’ve gone to church for different reasons at different points in my life. I went because my family went. I went because my friends went. I went because the boy I liked would be there. I went to make friends. I went because I had obligations to fulfill. I went because I wanted to worship God. I went to be taught and to learn. I went because it felt like family there, because it was my community. I went because I didn’t feel like going and those were the days I knew I needed it the most.
Most of those are okay reasons. Some more okay than others.
I’ve been really blessed by the church and I’ve been hurt by the church too. I think, if Christians are honest, most of us have. It breaks my heart when I hear of people so hurt by the church that they refuse to return. At the same time I think, “Yeah, I can see how that happens.” I’ve been offended and I’m sure I’ve offended people. (Actually, I know I have because I’ve been told I have.) I’ve gone to churches where people have poured into my life and really blessed me. I’ve gone to churches where no one spoke to me.
Recently God has really been convicting my heart about the purpose of church. I’d gotten into a space where I expected certain things from a church.
I expected people to be friendly and welcoming.
I expected a Bible study or home group to provide me with fellowship and friends.
I expected strong, Biblical preaching that spoke to my heart each work.
I expected worship leaders who were musically talented and who led worship that moved me.
Let me be clear that those are all good things. I still think that a healthy and thriving church will have those things. But I know many churches don’t. That doesn’t make them worthless or bad churches. Instead, what I’m realizing, is that we may be called to stay at those churches and help them become healthy and thriving, rather than walking out and finding a church that already fits our ideal.
The church is made up of people. Human beings. Flawed, sinful human beings. Here on earth the church will never, ever, ever be perfect. It will never quite live up to God’s kingdom. Our hearts know this. This is why we are so often hurt and disappointed by the church. There may be Sunday mornings (or Saturday evenings or Wednesday afternoons or whenever your church meets) where it seems like Heaven opens up and we see a glorious glimpse of what church was meant to be. Those times may be few and far between. I’ve cried because church is so good and I’ve cried because church is so disappointing.
What God has laid on my heart these past few weeks and why I’m writing this quickly-lengthening post is that I’m looking at church from the wrong direction. I’ve been looking at church from the angle of, “What can this church provide me?” when I should be looking at it as, “What can I do for the church? What can I do to glorify God with this group of believers?”
It isn’t about me needing to do things for God. He doesn’t need me to do things for Him. My God, who created the stars in the sky, doesn’t need me to teach Sunday School or bake cookies for a church fundraiser. Those are human needs and in participating, I get to be a part of God’s work. Not because He needs it but because He loves me and wants to share His goodness and grace with me and, more often than not, I grow by doing these things.
Basically, after all this rambling, what I want to say is, I’m learning to be committed to the flawed Church. (Capitalized because I’m taking about that “catholic church” thing from up above, not as any one particular church.) If I don’t think I’m getting out of Church what I should, maybe it’s because I’m not putting in what I should. I need to be committed to the Church, not because the Church has been good to me but because I am a part of the Church and because the Church is precious to God.
(Side note: There are definite and tragic cases of abuse in churches and I am by no means advocating commitment to abusive or controlling churches or to those that don’t follow and preach the Bible. I’m talking here about your normal, flawed but still God-desiring, Spirit-seeking, Bible-following Church.)
In discussing this with someone recently they mentioned something Oswald Chambers wrote. I went home and read the passage (it’s found in the daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, which is a great devotional.) Here’s an abridged version of it:
We are to be fountains through which Jesus can flow as “rivers of living water” in blessing to everyone. Yet some of us are like the Dead Sea, always receiving but never giving…As surely as we receive blessings from Him, He will pour out blessings through us. But whenever the blessings are not being poured out in the same measure they are received, there is a defect in our relationship with Him….Stay at the Source, closely guarding your faith in Jesus Christ and your relationship to Him, and there will be a steady flow into the lives of others.
For reference the Bible passages Chambers draws on here are John 4:14 and John 7:38.
This is what I want. Not to go to church that others might bless me (that might happen and if it does, it will be great) but to stay at the “source”, to draw close to my Saviour, and from there to see the abundance that He provides and to (hopefully) bless others. I don’t know what that abundance, that “river” might look like. It might look exactly like what I hope for, it might not.
Another side note/disclaimer: I’ve read over this post a few times and I feel nervous about posting it because I understand a blog is a public forum and there are people who know me personally who read or might read this blog. I think there is a lot of offense in the Church (people offending others, intentionally or not, and people feeling offended) and it’s not at all my intention to add to that. I’m not talking about any single church here so if you read this and we’ve ever been at a church service together, please don’t read into this too personally. I can say good and bad things about every church I’ve ever attended or visited but, really, I have mostly good things to say. I have, by and large, been very blessed by the Church. (Both in the world-wide sense and in the individual sense.)
So why post all this then? Because this is how I feel and I believe my feelings are valid. Yours are too! Because this is a tiny smidgen of my experience within the church. Because I believe it’s important not to idolize the church or act like flaws don’t exist within it. Because I’ve been going to church my entire life and I’ve seen church ministry up close and that’s been a good and a bad thing for me. Mostly a really good thing. Because maybe this will encourage someone else. Maybe not. But it helps me to write this down and put it out in the world.
Mostly I want to post this because this is honestly what God’s placed on my heart recently and I want to share that.