Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Tale of Two Churches (Part Two of Two)

As I looked around the faithful few gathered in the sanctuary, it became more than apparent this body was -- even within itself -- rife with difference: an elderly hand affixed to the arm of youth, pale-skinned feet under darkly shaded legs, eyes touched by poverty and sickness settled within a face radiating sheer joy, health and prosperity. Some worshipped with arms outstretched. At the rear of the sanctuary, some danced with tambourines and flags. Some knelt in prayer as a child beside his own bed. Others cried out in a cacophony of praise and joy, as if they had come face to face with The Holy One Himself. One man -- the man who had first introduced me to this group -- reclined in the pew, his body wracked with the pain I knew afflicted him every hour of the day. Yet, here he was. The lady who had most recently been sent to call us to this place, stood "singing" in sign language to no one in particular, but feeling the emotion of the words she saw projected on an old overhead, allowed them to flow to her hands. The worship band consisted of three, a stark contrast to the first church whose "guitar section" alone outnumbered this group. Offering was taken by children who rushed forward, eager to participate in the celebration of giving. Prayer was not the solemn event we witnessed in the other assembly, but a somewhat noisy gathering of hearts and minds, verbally expressing agreement with echoes and groans. A time of greeting followed: the opportunity to introduce ourselves and to meet those around us. We moved toward folks, anticipating handshakes and pleasantries; what we received were outstretched arms, warm embraces, genuine hospitality, and a Christian fellowship beyond our past experience or current expectations. This body of diversity and apparent deficit was completely unified at its core, and stood strong on a foundation much more than adequate, a Foundation -- with a capital "F" -- that cannot be quantified in earthly terms. Put this same group of people together without the Power that most obviously resided among them, and you would find infighting and discord, imbalance and bitterness that can be traced back for generations. The pastor humbly took his place at the front of the church, calling his friends and pupils to order -- experience some futility at first, but seeing one by one, this somewhat rowdy but happily loving family come to order. The message began. Practical, relevant, and every word straight from The Book which he required us to open as he began: The Holy Bible which he obviously revered but even more so, loved. And that, Dear Reader is sadly where our tale meets its most dramatic divergence.
The tale of the first church is one of prosperity and popularity. A church with almost unlimited resources at its disposal. A church heavy with talent and capital, brimming with tradition and education, but void of purpose. A church which has managed to keep the commonality of this world beyond its doors, and cull its own homogeneous, oblivious herd, unwise to the insidious diversions of a more tolerant and seeker-friendly theology. A church afraid of public opinion and striving for political correctness, offering programs and a place of importance for every faction, but offering them little else of any genuine value. How can a church which has worked so hard to ignore the offal outside its very steps have so much of the world and its scraps within its perimeter? On the other hand, how can a church -- our second church -- which throws open its doors to the world, to poverty and sickness, to persecution and pain, to any color or creed, to any age or address have so little worldliness within its loving arms? Truth, my friend, Truth. That is, the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus. The only Truth on which to build a church, a family, a life. To preach any other gospel is to preach a lie. You can preach hospitality, tolerance, kindness, or self-respect, but to preach anything outside the parameters of the True Gospel is to preach relativism and an ideal open to individual interpretation -- an ideal that must be refashioned and repackaged depending on societal changes or the waning and waxing of its appeal.
The first church in our tale, so aesthetically appealing has forgone the inerrancy and immutability of the Gospel and its God -- has exchanged the truth for a lie, in order that it might become more than it is and a Holy God less. The second church, the church (or one very similar) which we now, praise God, call our home has stood on the Word of Truth no matter its popular appeal, no matter whom it may offend. The second church is trusting that God doesn't need a bunch of broken individuals -- whitewashed or otherwise -- to make Him look good, that God grants said individuals the privilege and the responsibility of doing His work and bringing to others the tale of His love if we simply trust in Him.

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