Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When You Don't Want to Go to Church (Part 4)

Turns out I wasn't done with this series after all. I'd forgotten that I wanted to add some notes about a book I read on this topic.

Some years ago I'd heard of a book by Josh Harris called "Stop Dating the Church." I hadn't read it, but it sounded like my first post in this series, where I talk about Christian "free-lancers" and why I think that's a ridiculous idea, as opposed to being a part of one specific fellowship.

So I set out to find the book, which it turns out is now titled "Why Church Matters: Discovering Your Place in the Family of God."

A note about Josh Harris: I like him as an author because he can be controversial. Whether you agree with him or not, he isn't afraid to take a position and defend it. In an age of wishy-washy values, I admire that. Well, that and I tend to agree with his views! Yes, I was an "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" fan.

In "Why Church Matters," Harris presents a lot of initial explanations that are pretty basic: the church as the Body of Christ, etc., etc. Okay, sounds reasonable. NEXT. After that he proceeds to define "church-dater." As we've already established, I am more of a "long-term relationship" church-goer, so this view of his wasn't anything new to me, either. He states, "My goal in this book is to help you get connected and committed to a solid local church." (p. 21) Okay, that's pretty clear.

My interest was piqued about 1/3 of the way through the book when frequent mentions of the Bride of Christ started to draw me in. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I have been neglectful. When I question my own church commitment, I'm usually thinking about keeping promises, being active/disciplined, and not letting people down. But what if I instead thought of each commitment in terms of an expression of love for the Church? Not loyalty to an organization, but thinking more of the big picture.

So why is a local church the best environment for loving the Church as a whole? One reason Harris gives (quoting Piper): "Sanctification is a community project." (p. 40)

To further illustrate the idea of community, Harris describes a book which tells the story of two young Christians who "hit the highway in search of God." They were taking a break from their local church community and going on a pilgrimage.

But I like what Harris says next: "Going away is easy. Do you want to know what's harder? Do you want to know what takes more courage and what will make you grow faster than anything else? Join a local church and lay down your selfish desires by considering others more important than yourself." (p.50)

This hits home with me as I've been realizing that running away from conflict isn't always the higher road. I may be "good at" staying faithful to a local church or being a long-term friend, but what is actually going on in my heart? I can lose control of my tongue and engage in some pretty good arguments, but when it comes to something that's really irked me, I tend to want to pull away. I'll just quit teaching Sunday school. I'll just stay home from the next party. I'll just refrain from speaking up at Bible study next time. I'll just keep that person at arm's length. Sometimes hard conversations need to happen in order to move forward. It seems like to refrain from confrontation entirely would be to remain in infancy.

And how likely are those conversations to happen when you keep everyone at arm's length by not settling down in a local body? That's the thing to think about here.

I think I'll stop there even though I didn't get to all the points in the book.

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