I’ve been listening hard to the commentators in church leadership. There are lots of voices hollering for attention, but few that really resonate. Most of the popular spokespeople are telling us that we have to radically change everything we’re doing to create a transformed social force, which they do not want to call “church.” In fact, the trappings of church life are to be avoided like the plague. Maybe they’re right. Church isn’t always fun and neither is it always healthy.
But Jesus didn’t tell us to convert people without calling them into community. And even though the church is flawed, and believe me I have seen and bear those flaws, there is value to building up the community of faith. From time to time we need to be reminded that the church is not and should not be our primary focus, but it still has importance in the life of discipleship to Jesus Christ.
I thought about this as I was mopping the floor today. I have fought the parsonage kitchen floor since I moved here four years ago. It is off-white and shows dirt as well as coal miners emerging from the ground. In fact some days you’d think a train of coal had crashed nearby and poured its contents right in front of the refrigerator.
Well, it’s probably not THAT bad, but you know what I mean. It has been a struggle to keep the floor clean. It has become an obsession with me. Every time I mop I hope for greater brightness, and am always disappointed. The build-up of wax on this no-wax floor has ruined it. It needs to be stripped.
So I went to a store and bought some stuff to mop with that promises to restore the floor to its original beauty. I mixed it up, added water, and have been hopeful in my application of it. A cup of ammonia, a quarter cup of this miracle liquid, and a half gallon of water. Formulaic, I know, but you do what you’re told by the experts.
Only problem is the build-up is so bad it only streaked it. You can see that it works, and you can see some good in it, but it’s going to take a lot of work to be satisfied with the result.
The church is like that. Over time it gets to bear its own version of waxy build up. Some things do indeed need to be stripped from the vestiges of time and the ornamentation of well-meaning lovers of Jesus. We need to get it back to something closer to what it was intended. But even the best efforts will not cover the marks of age, or bring it back to its original brilliance.
We used to intone these words before someone would join the church: “The Church is of God and will be preserved until the end of time.” They were hopeful words. They tended to instill the idea that it is only by small steps that the kingdom is victorious.
Those who call for a radical operation in the life of the church have failed to remember the first part of this phrase. The Church is of God. Change all you want, but God will lead the church to renewal, and God only. No radical restructuring, no amount of merging and refocusing, not even a well-advertised call to action. Only God.
When disciples of Jesus Christ listen to the Spirit in our midst, the one who walks among the golden lampstands, we will find the waxy build-up removed and renewal shining through. I’d better get back to work, I smell ammonia.