I know I dont typically blog about spiritual things, but I've been thinking a lot about church recently.
I feel like it just keeps coming up... and so many people in my life have so many different opinions on the matter. I have to admit, I'm a little bit confused about what my actual convictions are to this present day, but I think I'm getting closer to understanding.
Having grown up in a community of believers who all regularly attended church (most of whom had family involved if not running their respective churches), I always felt a bit different from my circle since my family loosely attended. We weren't every Sundayers. We weren't even every other Sundayers. Maybe, like, twice a month. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I was pretty involved in youth group(s) as I got older, so I attended more and more into High School, and church was very much a part of my life as I graduated and married Tyson.
When we moved to Missouri, we found a big church we wanted to be part of, and took a membership class almost right away. We got involved. We were in a small group at someone's house (hoping to connect with a new community being young and far away from home), and I volunteered to help in children's church... we took a membership class... and then came the subject of tithing.
It felt like a double standard. For the first time, I was making my own money, understanding the value (or lack thereof) of the dollar... and the church wanted it. I understood, in theory, why my dollar belonged to the church... because God calls us to give, because Jesus talks about money in the Bible more than he talks about anything else, because its all God's anyway and isn't that nice of him to allow us to keep 90% of what He has blessed us with... but, it felt uncomfortable, and it left a bad taste. I wanted to do it... but I was skeptical. And then, I felt guilty. Like I couldn't be a good Christian, or a growing Christian... if I wasn't giving.
I'm not saying thats the reason why we stopped going to church. I think we just got busy... we moved back to Santa Barbara, Tyson worked some Sundays and when he didnt, we drove to visit our families. We had a baby, moved a few more times, had another baby, the kids always get sick in the nursery, the services don't work out with morning nap routines, the kids cry when we leave them in their classes, so we'll take a break for awhile... conflict after conflict arose, and all the while were collecting life experiences and making observations about 'Christians' and 'church' along the way...
I can't speak for my husband (tho I think he may agree to an extent), but my observations and experiences of 'the faithful' in the void of regular church attendance hasnt been pretty. I see the hypocrisies. I see the double standards. I see the conflicts, the drama, the corruption, and sometimes, the downright cheesinesses (can I even say that?). And it bothers me... because everyone who is part of a church is so insistent in the necessity of being 'part of the family,' and Im thinking "WHY!? My family has enough of all that! The church wants our money to build and buy shiny new things, all the while they are mis representing Christ to the rest of the world who is watching while they all proceed to fall away one by one by one... "
For the last couple years, we've been not so regularly attending Atascadero Bible Church. I have to admit, I had my reservations at first. Its big. Everyone who even remotely claims Christ or morality of ANY kind on our small community attends. I thought... "I know too much about too many people. They know too much about me. They have too many shiny things and fancy programs to be interested in my family, or remember my face. But then again, what if they remember my face?"... but finally, we went. It wasn't bad. The next time, it was more comfortable than the first time... and so its continued all this time, until now, when finally I can say its the church we 'not so regularly but always if ever' attend.
I've been pleasantly surprised. I've found theres a reason for the huge number of attendees... they're doing something right. I don't agree with everything, always. But I feel more comfortable now. And I've made a few friends...
Today the message was "Why Join A Church?"
I thought..."Here we go. Im not getting sucked in to making a commitment just because I feel guilty..." and then I thought of all the reasons I'm not sure church attendance is a requirement for being an effective Christian, and how I dont feel the church today is ANYTHING that Christ meant it to be, all the corruption, all the short comings...
And then, I heard the message. And I feel slightly... encouraged. And enlightened. And surprisingly, less guilty!
The message was not condescending. It was not a guilt trip. It was not a membership plug.
The message spoke of the church being the Bride of Christ. It immediately reminded me of the beauty and perfection of a bride on her wedding day. But the pastor pointed out... the bride isn't beautiful without preparing herself. The bride, he said, is filthy at the beginning of the day, and only thru a nurturing process is she gradually transformed. Even so, the groom loves her, and anticipates what she will become in time.
He also drew the parallel of actual marriage. Why get married? Why not just live together? Well, that answer is pretty obvious to me. Marriage is hard... but it is good. At least I believe that. Its a pledge of loyalty, and a necessary commitment for a growing relationship.
But what about the hypocrisies? What about all the church's short comings? What about all the people who go to church, and bring their baggage, or think they don't have any baggage and are somehow better than the rest? What about the double standards?
He pointed out... this is why we go to church. Ministry is dirty. People are filthy. But Christ still gave to them. We go to church... not because we are perfect and holy and squeaky clean images of perfection... but actually, quite the contrary. We go... because we are hypocrites hoping to help heal each other... gradually. And we are all in different parts of the journey, and communing for a variety reasons and hang ups and triumphs.
Lastly, his point was that Christ loves the church. She is his bride. He purchased her with his blood, he nurtured and cherished her, and he has set her apart for a reason.
It would be easy to argue that over the centurys and political campaigns and one scandal after another, the church has lost sight of her sanctification (that is to say her 'purpose'). And maybe so. But, the fact is... she is still his bride. And we are to love what Christ loves. And no matter what our opinions of church in general might be... we ought to be careful how we speak of Christ's bride... for whom he gave his life.
So... i'm still not completely sure how I feel about church. But I think I can be more mindful of its purpose. And I can definitely be more careful about how I regard it.
And maybe... just maybe... we can make it 2 Sundays in a row. Its not membership... but its a start.