28 December, 2007

Choosing a Church in which to Bloom

I have already said each of us should attend the church nearest our home, and given incontrovertible reasons. There is, however, one reason not to attend the church closest to your home.

You should only attend a church that's alive.

How can you tell whether the church nearest your home is dead, and that you should attend a little further away?

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, chapters 2 and 3 give us a pretty look at 7 churches. Let's see what Jesus has to say about each of them. If you'll forgive me, for the sake of brevity I'm only going to focus on the negative.

Ephesus left their first love. They quit loving Christ Himself. That's MASSIVE. But it was not too late for them to repent, do the first works again, and stay in the presence of the Lord. That surely means they are alive. I would not pass on a church because they had grown a little cold in love. If you join them and let the fire of your love burn, who knows what might happen?

Smyrna was faultless, but poor and about to enter a fearful time of persecution. It might take courage to join a Smyrna, to join a church in a difficult neighborhood perhaps, but there's a crown of life in it for those who dare.

Pergamos holds false doctrines, commits idolatry and fornication, and has a serious clergy problem. Join or run? This one is truly a tough call for me. I think I'd go in with about the same attitude Jesus seems to show. I'd join and let my specific concerns be known to people with power to promote repentance. There's still a spark of life there, so I'd have a hard time passing them by. There's one thing I'd watch for ... but more about that later.

Thyatira suffered a fornicating prophetess to teach false doctrines and develop a following. I'd join that church in a heartbeat, though, because Jesus says He only has anything against those who follow her. That church is definitely alive. Entertaining such seduction is not a sign of death.

Sardis teaches more about attending the nearest church than any other. Sardis is all but dead. There's almost no reason whatsoever to even give wretched Sardis a chance. But Jesus doesn't see them as dead; He sees them as alive and dead. There are just a few with clean garments, and He sees that as long as those few are there, the whole body might still return from their long winter. You see, the only way those few could leave their church would be to pack up and move to Philadelphia or Smyrna. They were stuck. But Jesus holds out a hope of life to them. Even a church alive and dead might still be vibrant one day.

Philadelphia is tiny and weak, but she's earned the commendation of the Lord. Maybe those couple Sardisians really SHOULD move! Personally, I'll take a tiny church any day, but that's a personal thing. I don't like crowds. I like to know everyone, and feel connected to everyone, and even at 90 people that's a stretch for me. So, I'm all over the tiny churches.

Laodicea receives not one word of praise. They are lying to themselves about their riches, about their vision, and about their beauty. They could hardly be more messed up. Really. Think about Laodicea being the church nearest to you. Laodicea would talk about their mission to the community while they shooed beggars out of their shadow. They would look at their beautiful stained glass and confuse it with spiritual wealth. They would beam proudly in all the city celebrations while everyone around them depised their hypocrisy. Could you join this church? Should you join this church? I don't know, but Jesus had this to say to them, "As many as I love, I rebuke...."

5 of these 7 churches had real problems, dirty problems. They had the kinds of problems that cause people to say, "You know, I still haven't found a church where I feel at home." But the Lord was still dealing with all seven of them. The Lord had not walked out.

On this basis, I would honestly consider attending a church that suffered the evils of lovelessness, false doctrine, idolatry, fornication, bad clergy, renegade prophets, death, poverty, tininess, or hypocrisy. (Probably not all 10, though.)

There's one thing, though, that I'd watch for in any church. If I saw it deeply entrenched I'd probably move on - peace.

If I see a church at peace, I'm out of there.

Peace is what the dead rest in. Even in the best church, peace means no one is thinking any more. Whenever you have three people thinking about anything, you're bound have an argument, so if there's no struggle, I'm probably getting nervous.

Pergamos and Laodicea were the worst of the lot. If I had to choose between the First Church of Pergamos on my block and the Laodicean Church of Jesus right next door, I would visit both and the one that was still fighting is the one I'd join. Fighting is awful, stressful and bad, but fighting means there's life and passion nestled somewhere in that body. There's still a fire to blow into a flame.

When there's sin but no fire, the sin has won and it's time to move on. Up until that point, it's fair to hope the Lord might blow on that spark. And if the Lord might blow on the spark, don't you want to be there to help?

1 Cor 7:14
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

How much more might a church be sanctified by each of the people who give themselves to her?


eclexia said...

Oh, wow, Codepoke--what a powerful sermon this is. And so full of hope in places I don't think I would have necessarily seen the hope had I lived by those churches myself. Once again, reading your thoughts on church, I am humbled and in awe. Yes, I'm amazed at how you think about these things and can articulate it, but mostly in awe at how God is at work in and through churches which, personally, I would have given up on a long time ago. It makes me see how much my own attitudes in looking for a church are not Christlike.

I am also encouraged by the faithfulness of God in your life--from the bits of your church story experiences which I have read before, it is truly amazing the path God has led you on and the words that you have in helping others think through the imperfections of "church" as we know it to come to a place of embracing the living, breathing body of Christ within this specific and often flawed form that we call church.

codepoke said...

I usually retreat to humor after a comment like this, Eclexia, but I'll say thank you instead. Your last couple comments are very sobering. May the Lord bless your bonding with your new church.

in awe at how God is at work in and through churches which, personally, I would have given up on a long time ago

Amen. I have long wished to tear down the organized church. Salguod picked that out about my first couple posts in this series very quickly. And I think maybe my position is in flux now.

It's an old conundrum. Does one try to fix a broken church, or pull out and start a new one? I used to answer B without hesitation. Now I think the answer is C, none of the above. You join the church without trying to fix anything. You have no idea how odd it is to hear those words roll off my keyboard.

Maybe the organization is just a detail, as you said, "just." Maybe it's not the enemy at all, but one more affliction suffered by the Lord's darling bride. Maybe the answer really is to ignore it in even a bigger way than I was imagining a week or two ago when I started this.

I'll let this stew further.

Milly said...

I’m now looking at churches that look and act differently. I’m looking at one within walking distance of my home. It’s a new year and I need some new starts.

pearlie said...

Peace is what the dead rest in. Even in the best church, peace means no one is thinking any more. Whenever you have three people thinking about anything, you're bound have an argument, so if there's no struggle, I'm probably getting nervous.

What if they are the dead (in the spirit) fighting for the ungodly things? I have seen/heard that happening far too often. I still think peace is crucial - the peace of Christ - it is ok to "fight" and argue but still have the peace of Christ within us. What do you think?

Kansas Bob said...

Nice post CP.. isn't it interesting that each of these is called "church"? I often wonder if these 7 churches actually make up (in some sense) each and every (well most) church? Seems that what Jesus speaks about these churches can also be said of those in the church.

Missy said...

I hope you don't mind, CP, but I forwarded this post to some of my friends who are discouraged about the direction of their home churches. I think it is very encouraging to remember that God desires that we suffer in our sins - and that the church is no different. I consider it a great honor to have such frequent opportunities to express unconditional love in that way.

codepoke said...

May the Lord personally bless your search, Milly. You deserve a place with some wise people in it.

codepoke said...


> What if they are the dead (in the spirit) fighting for the ungodly things?

That's a bad thing for sure, Pearlie. You are right. Strife is not good in itself. My intent was to say that the absence of strife is not the presence of good.

To illustrate:
Sanding a piece of wood creates friction, and so does scraping it all over concrete. If the wood needs sanding, you're going to have some friction. Period. That doesn't make scraping it on concrete good; it just means that if the wood is cool and serene it's gonna need sanding for a long, long, long time.

codepoke said...

I wonder, too, KB whether we've come up with any new offenses since the Revelation, or is there no new failing under the sun.

codepoke said...

Mind, Missy? I'm thinking about making this message my reason for getting up in the morning, so the more people challenged by it and challenging me on it the better.

Home church is tough. I did it 3 times over 15 years, and learned a little something different every time. I'd love to shoot the breeze if you're folk are interested.