A sincere case for the Church as I knew it in 1997. Go with me on this.
Before the beginning of time, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit existed in perfect, blessed, and eternal fellowship.
Sure, that is a propositional truth, but it's much more. That is the foundation of the universe itself. That fellowship defines everything the universe was ever meant to be. We cannot understand why grass grows, why people love, or why the church exists until we apprehend the fellowship of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
Whatever it is they are doing, is what we are meant to do.
Understanding the eternal fellowship of the Godhead presents a little bit of a difficulty because it's utterly beyond us, but not as much as you might expect. The divine fellowship is still going on, and with a little bit of care we can watch it. We can watch it because where it is happening is in the secret of our own spirits. Right now, the Father, the Son, the Spirit and you are fellowshipping in the depths of your heart. You may not be participating much in that fellowship, but it is there.
1Jo 1:3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship [is] with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
That fellowship is the cause and purpose of the church.
Eph 3:9 And to make all [men] see what [is] the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
The purpose of the church is not evangelism. It is not discipleship. It is not the great commision. The purpose of the church is to enter into that fellowship with God, and to demonstrate to the world what it means to partake in the divine.
Eph 3:10 - 11, & 18 - 19
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly [places] might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: ... May be able to comprehend with all saints what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
The church is all about Christ.
Christ is her Source, and her Destination. Christ is her Experience and her Knowledge. We are to know the Love which passes knowledge. The purpose of the church is eternal, because the relationship Christ is building with her is eternal. Evangelism, discipleship, missions, and bible study (hours and hours of bible study) are all good things. We should do good things. But we must not let the good get in the way of the goal. The eternal is superior to the temporal, though the temporal is great.
The most important theological question is, "So what?"
Well, "So what? What about my world will change, if I should accept that the purpose of the church is to know Christ?"
Your faith is going to have to become experimental. I mean that in both senses. Practice is going to outweigh doctrine, and you are going to have to "hang it out there" a bit in your practice. You're going to have to experiment with doing things differently to see what works. More than that, what worked yesterday is not necessarily going to work tomorrow. Variety is going to become important.
If you make a new friend, one with whom you hope to work and play a great deal, you get past going to lunch together. You try meals other than lunch. You try sports, movies, reading, walking, music. You help each other out, and try working together. You find differences in your beliefs, and see how disagreement feels. You listen for things that matter to each other, and float out odd thoughts to see whether they fly.
But when you meet the Lord, you go to church 3 times a week until you die. I was saved 34 years ago, people! I have seen enough of the inside of a church building, thank you very much!
Daily devotions. Books. Christian music. All these things (yes, even the inside of a steepled building) are good, and a blessing. That doesn't make it right to drop all curiosity and adventure! If you and your new friend decide that lunch 3 times a week, and sharing journals is the sum total of your futures, how long will you keep going back?
I should not have to argue this point, but I will just a little longer. God made countless varieties of flowers, animals, even dirt. He made a world that connected all this variety by a variety of senses, too. Smell is a huge part of every experience we have. How many churches have decided to alter the smell of a service? How many times have you changed the lighting? Had a service about touch? Taste?
The Son left us an entire sacrament dedicated to taste, and we extend ourselves to deciding whether to taste dry crackers and grape juice, or unleavened bread and wine, but that was a post from last week so I will not belabor it here.
No, our entire experience of the gospel is hearing. We sing, and we preach. Well, most of us listen as we are sung to by loudspeakers, and preached to by a man who dearly loves the Lord. Give me hymns! Give me sermons! I am against neither, but give me something else, too. I want to move beyond lunch and journaling!
Expository is my favorite kind of preaching . Dig into the eternal Word, and reveal the depths of glory that God has shown of His Son. But, when you are done, let us do something with it. Let us celebrate the love of a Father for the prodigal with a welcome home party by proxy. Let us turn out the lights long after the sun has hidden itself , and in the darkness remember the separation of the Son at that deadly moment. Let us shoot off bottle rockets to praise the Lord for the ascension. Let us answer back to the Lord and to the sermons. Let us live.
Preaching is too easy. In a church of 200, at 40 hours per person per week, it requires less than .5% of the church's work week to prepare a sermon. The church is 99.5% idling! Let all 200 of us plan a meeting, then see what we can come up with. If everyone puts in 2 hours per week preparing for a meeting, that's 10 times as much total effort and the effort has the variety of 200 hearts.
In my experience, given this chance, a large minority of people will do nothing, but a minority nonetheless. The majority will blow you away with how hard they work, and how much treasure they have to offer.
And if you try this, your pastor might just have a little time to shepherd.
And a little break from the expository preaching just might let him come back to the subject fresh.
He might even be inspired by some of the things the children of the Lord share when they are allowed to function as a body.
(I'm just guessing here. We never had a pastor, and it cost us, but that is M & C - 3.)
I have lived this kind of a church, and I want to live it again. I want to live again in a place where every member of the body shares in the work. Where every member brings a song or a praise or a prophecy. Where every member has a voice.