Home > Features > What is the church?

What is the church?

JOURNEY CONTINUES its exploration of Brian McLaren’s 10 questions he says are transforming the church. This month is the church question.

Adulterous liaisons, wealthy church members showing off, the personality cults of leaders in sharp suits, and the rest of the community shaking its head as factions break up a growing charismatic church: it’s the tale of woe from a fast growing church in a multi-cultural metropolis – Corinth.

One need not add a rock band and cable TV ministry to Paul’s story to bring it into the 21st Century.

It’s very easy to criticise churches. It always has been.

Paul wrote to a church with immorality so awful “even the heathen would not be guilty of it”.

Yet he “always gives thanks to God for you because of the grace he has given you through Jesus Christ”.

My Dad’s tongue in cheek advice struck me as I considered the church question in Brian McLaren’s continuing series.
“If you find the perfect church, don’t join it. You’ll ruin it,” Dad said.

Mr McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity, suggested that churches save people in some ways and afflict them in others.

He asked people to honestly consider how we might have experienced both sides of that coin. He takes church as a “given”, just as Christ told us to be one as he and the Father are one, and Paul spoke of building blocks and body parts joined and growing together in some strange unity. Somehow we know we belong together.

Paul told the Corinthians, “We belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God”.

We complain about everything from how loud the music is to how we will pay the bills.

We get stuck into roast preacher after the Sunday gathering. Yet we recall the joy on the face of the young guitarist, the way an anonymous donation filled the coffers and how that same minister visited you in hospital.

A few weeks ago a member of a Uniting Church parish put an idea to his congregation in a story.

He admitted he often wondered why he went to worship.

“Compare me to a sports car I owned: British designed, two doors, soft top, green with a six cylinder engine,” he said.
“I would never lie to you, but I have deceived you.

“The car was en ex-Army Land Rover! Behind my mask I’m not the man I want to be or the bloke I want you to see.

“Sometimes I don’t want to be here, church makes me aware of my failings, my sin – and yet I can come and trust you.

“I take that mask off and let you see me as I really am.”

People can get badly hurt letting their guard down like that.

Many of us can tell the same stories as the Corinthians.

We’ve been the victims of abuse or power plays, been made to feel ignorant or silly by those who claim to be wise or mature.

Yet we are members of the body of Christ.

In each other we see pettiness, selfishness, worldly ambitions and the image of God.

Together, we are called to become more like Jesus.

German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against taking for granted the “privilege of living among other Christians”.
In Life Together Bonhoeffer wrote, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer”.

The church’s grand mission, according to Brian McLaren, is the formation of Christ-like people. He asked us to recall the most Christ-like people we have encountered.

How has your church experience helped you become more Christ-like and loving?

What could your church do to help you in the pursuit of becoming more like Christ?

Despite our imperfect faith and fellowship we still stand together and proclaim, “We believe in one God the Father Almighty. We believe in Jesus Christ His only son, our Lord. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life”.

It takes faith to say the last part: “We believe in the holy catholic and apostolic church.”