Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's in a Building?

I'm sitting here asking myself what I'm allowed to say, or what I'm supposed to say, and after several days of wondering...I'm still hesitating. So, why don't I just say what I'm thinking and you can feel free to contribute if you think you can help me understand things better. How does that sound? Here's what I'm thinking...I'm thinking about Islam and Christianity, comparing history and geography, in terms of getting to the intent of the respective founders. I feel quite confident in saying that Jesus did not teach violence as a constructive means to an end, not so sure about Mohammad.  I know there are many moderate Muslims, I'm not saying otherwise. I'm just wondering why it seems that as you get farther from Mecca and Medina, Islam seems to soften, but as you get closer to it's origins, to the practice of it's founder and present day political factions...hmmn. Why does it seem that when I hear moderate Muslims speak, often they seem to be westerners, or influenced by the west? Just a question I have, if anyone can help me out. Are they re-interpreting Islam through western eyes, or are there older traditions there that I'm not aware of? Having said that, or rather asked that, I think the thing to keep in mind, the conclusion that I'm coming to, is that it's not up to me/ or us (non-Muslims) in the west to define Islam, it's up to Muslims to interpret or define Islam. We Christians have our own problems... so on to our problems. What I hear is that the church is doing amazingly well in other parts of the world. That's what I hear. If if ever get a bit of cash I'll have to travel and see a bit of that for myself, for pure encouragement, because that's not what I see here. I live in the west, have all my life, and I keep hearing about empty churches, aging denominations, church scandals, sexual abuse, it's enough to make the uninitiated, or the initiated, run in the other direction. I guess it's like the news in general, you tend to hear the bad more than the good.

As for me, I grew up in the Catholic church, sort of.  I got a lot of mixed messages about religion. It was more of a cultural thing, like having a citizenship for burial, as morbid as that sounds haha. To make a long story short though, I've had a trans-denominational Christian experience over the years. I'm at a point where as long as it's within orthodoxy, it's tomato tomata to me. I'm just a Christian. But I will say that the church that I attend presently, I really love and never want to leave. It's an evangelical church (Wesleyan), one of the segment that seems to be doing better. And that's another question I have. Why is it that in the media, evangelical churches seem to be viewed negatively, but those are the ones that seem to be growing? Why is that? Why is it that the more liberal or politically correct churches aren't doing so well, generally speaking at least, the progressives aren't progressing, while the more conservative or charismatic churches are flourishing?  I myself feel like I understand, when I hear that people aren't attending church. I get that, because I think that if I had stayed in the sort of church I grew up in -dead, in a word, I wouldn't go to church either. What would be the point? What's the point of going to church if you're not going to get anything out of it?  And yet it seems that people still believe in God, they just don't believe in church. I can't say I blame them. 

So where am I going with this?  What's in a building?  A while back I was listening to Tim Keller, not sure if I could find it, but I think what he was getting at was that Christianity has tended to do well when it's not institutionalized. My words, but I think that's what he was saying. That's what my opening comments were getting at too, in thinking about historic Christianity in contrast to Islam. We lost our way, arguably, when Christianity became institutionalized and politicized, but that's not how it started! And so it seems to me, that if we want to get back to our roots, is it not a fair question to ask, what did the early church look like? The early church started in homes. It was small. It was personal. The people lived together, formed close relationships, shared property, and then came Constantine, and a bloody history. I hesitate to say it was all bad, because I suspect it wasn't (stability and gradual social reform of the west being important to balance in that assesment), but we all know that it wasn't all good either. And the U.S. had this wonderful idea, separation of church and state-oh, did I say that?  I must be being brainwashed by secularists haha. ("My kingdom is not of this world, give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's," sound familiar)? But as that idea is threatened, and as the lines between church and state are blurred, we have a new cultural movement that rejects religion, all religion outright. Surprise surprise, Europe saw it coming. That's my confused way of saying that I'm inspired by the early church.  I know it's not simple, nothing's simple, with Islam or Christianity or any religion, but I think the church would do well to remember it's origins, to reflect on the practices of it's founder and of the early church.

Maybe I'm naive, maybe this is a very optimistic thing to suggest even, but what if we were to get back to that? What if we in the western world were to let the institutional church fall and start meeting in homes again? What if the Catholic church voluntarily sold some of those empty churches as a way of compensating victims of abuse? Is that such a crazy idea?  How about an even crazier idea? What if when secularists demand taxes, we give them double, and offer them lunch -at our place? What do you think about that? Crazy, I know. I'm a little crazy, but I figure I'm in good company. Or, what if the leadership of some of those empty churches were to begin again by asking, what are the needs of the community that surrounds this building?  How can these old four walls and a choir be put to better use? How can we reach out here?  How can we make a difference? Childcare? Services to the poor? Care of the larger community? That's why the early church grew, because it stood in such sharp contrast to the surrounding culture?  Do we?    

Over the years I've found that God often meets me in the place of my own poverty. I seem to have to learn this over and over again, because I expect myself to have everything together, and it never happens, trust me. But when I allow God to meet me where I'm at, good things happen. He leads me by a path I couldn't see. What's in a building?  Whatever we bring to it. Whatever we allow the holy spirit to give to us. We are the church. We are the building. We are the hands and feet of Christ, to never again be broken, regardless of how many bricks seem to be falling on our heads. On this rock..from a Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Pentecostal Wesleyan,

thanks for listening,

M.A. Harvey

this is a song I've always liked, and I highly recommend it, but not the video, but then there's not many videos I would recommend. Haha, have a great day.

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