Donald Miller, popular Christian author (Blue Like Jazz) and blogger has recently acknowledged he doesn’t go to church. (Check out his post here if you haven’t read it.)
I’ve read neither of Donald Miller’s blog posts – not the confession of truancy and not the follow-up to the backlash. I know of them from two sources: Twitter (whose feed, on good days without traffic lights, I blissfully ignore) and Facebook (because I belong to several writers’ groups, and we talk about these things).
I am obviously NOT the one to specifically address what Donald Miller has and has not said, but if you’re curious, here is a good critical piece in response: Donald Miller and the Culture of Contemporary Worship by Mike Cosper. (Anyone who cites James K.A. Smith and his book, Desiring the Kingdom, is ok in my book.)
I cannot speak directly to the Donald Miller brouhaha, nor do I want to. In fact, I think Donald Miller is a great writer, and I'm thankful for his voice. But I do want to say this.
You need the church. I need the church. And she is beautiful.
End of story.
But let me also say that I understand how our experience of church can be incredibly hard. Though I have not been among the most seriously wounded by the church (and mourn deeply for those who, at the hands of their pastors and fellow Christians, have suffered egregious sins), I, too, know the difficulty of church.
Years ago, there was, I believe, a sin committed against me and Ryan by the leadership of our church. I wish it were the kind of sin that love could have easily and quickly covered – but it wasn’t. There is no point to the details now. In fact, though it wasn’t immediately forgiven and is still not forgotten (I don’t always think forgiveness has to work like that), it has, by God’s persistent and redeeming grace, healed.
And it healed because of the church. What happened years ago in the leadership of another church has been restored by the leadership of our current church. And I marvel at this: that all those wounds, all the self-doubt that scarred over years ago, they are healing because of the church.
Wounded by the church. And restored by her. This is the reality of Church today, in a world that is suspended in waiting – waiting till Jesus returns and “presents the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish,” (Eph. 5:27). Church is messy and impossibly human, but I love her and believe that we cannot understand ourselves apart from the Church.
Which is why Donald Miller has it wrong.
We need the Church.
It is a great sin that bloggers commit against their readers when they pretend that they can do what only the Church can. And we are implicated in their sin by attempting to nourish our spiritual lives through blogs and podcasts while week after week, we avoid the local gathering of God’s people.
You need the church more than you need Donald Miller or Rachel Held Evans or fill-in-the-blank blogger/author/online pastor whose podcasts you adore.
And you need the church for more than the electricity you feel when the worship sets are good and the pastor preaches well.
You need it for so many reasons I couldn’t begin to explain here. (But how about just one?)
You need it to learn to love God – because your love for God will be proven most real (or most tenuous) as you interact with his people.
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen,” (1 John 4:20).
I don’t know about you but I love God so well when the children are off to school, the house is quiet, and I’m writing words like these. Ooooo, the good feelings and the certainty that I’m in the spiritual groove.
But then it’s Sunday morning, and an important children’s ministry volunteer has arrived late (despite numerous reminders). Because of her terribly insensitive actions (which I rehearse indignantly in my mind), the Sunday morning program runs askew, and instead of attending the service (which I’ve missed the previous five weeks), I’m putting out fires behind the scenes.
For the past six months, since I took the position of Director of Children’s Ministry at my church, I’m often not in church in the most traditional sense. It’s not likely a position I’ll do long-term for any number of reasons. But I can say this: it’s been a great way, for me, to put my money where my mouth is.
Love the Church. Because Jesus does.
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“It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer