Summary: The church is more important that you think.
The Barna Group reports that about 10 million self-proclaimed born-again Christians have not been in church the last six months. Nearly all of these 10 million people say their faith is important to them, but their spiritual life has nothing to do with church.
Bono, lead singer for the rock group U2, has campaigned for the church to become more involved in the fight against AIDS. Bono emerged as a star example of the unchurched Christian. Having once been involved in a loosely structured Irish fellowship, Bono now seldom goes to church. He does pray. He likes to say grace at meals. He has a favorite Bible translation. But he doesn’t want to be pinned down about a commitment to church: “I just go where the life is, you know? Where I feel the Holy Spirit. If it's in the back of a Roman Catholic cathedral, in the quietness and the incense, which suggest the mystery of God, of God’s presence, or in the bright lights of the revival tent, I just go where I find life. I don’t see denomination. I generally think religion gets in the way of God.”
Virginia Slims cigarette ads from the 1970’s were famous for telling women, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” One 1978 ad in particular showed a woman hanging laundry out to dry and the text said: “Back then, every man gave his wife at least one day a week out of the house. You’ve come a long way, baby.” To the right of the haggard women and her laundry is a well-dressed and sexy women smoking his cigarette. It’s more than thirty years since the ad displayed itself on billboards around our country. The church has come a long was as well. Yet, I’m not sure if all our changes have given us reason to celebrate.
“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)
1. Think about Church.
Let’s think about church for a few moments. Note to God is an app on the iPhone. Note to God is a place where people can upload their anonymous notes to God. One person posted the following: “I need healing. My heart is breaking. My pastor has been involved in porn the whole five years he’s been at our church. Please help me.”
Another person writes: “I have no idea what to think about the huge split happening in our church – [he names a church in OK]. Who is right, who is wrong, who is honest, who isn’t… I almost feel betrayed. And I really don’t know how it will ever feel the same again. It’s going to take a miracles… Nothing less than a miracle.”
Let’s be honest with one another for a few moments. Church can be a place where incredible hypocrisy exists. It’s always been this way. Nearly 1,800 years ago a North African bishop named Cyprian criticized believers who recanted their confession of Christ to avoid persecution. After the persecution had ended, they wanted to be allowed back into the fellowship of the church. Cyprian’s words are tough and have endured until our day: “We are not interested in what he teaches, since he teaches outside the Church. Whatever and whatsoever kind of man he is, he is not a Christian who is not in Christ’s Church… He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.” (Cyprian, a North African bishop, in the 3rd century.)
Cyprian’s words were especially pointed as he declared this during a severe persecution upon Christian in the city of Carthage. He resisted reinstating those who had failed Christ during their persecution.
I’m not sure what your experience is with the church, but today I want to answer the question, “Why Bother with the Church?” I’ve had wonderful, humbling experiences with people in church in states all across our nation. I’ve even been blessed by international churches. Yet, I’ve also left church hurt by its people. I’ve left wondering, “What good is it to be with these people?” Churches, much like families, are places where people sometimes quarrel.
That’s one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter in front of us. Chloe’s people had reported that there was quarreling going on in Corinth (1:11). Throughout the sixteen chapters of this letter, Paul deals with hypocrisy among the people who claim Christ. The idea of Rethinking Church is really a focus on the question of how to deal with hypocrisy among God’s people.