Are we doing church wrong in the United States?
Earlier this week, a woman who attends my church posted a comment on the church’s Facebook page about how many people in the church feel disconnected from other believers and lonely. Why is this? Is it the society we live in of busy schedules and social media, or is there a fundamental disconnect between how we “do” church in America and what Jesus intended the church to be?
I’m reading through The Pauline Epistles (the Letters of Paul), which are Paul’s letters to various early churches. When Paul talks to the early churches in Corinth and Rome, he is referring to the “church” as a group of believers who meet together, bringing hymns and prophesy to build each other up (1 Corinthians 14:12). The church wasn’t a mixed group of believers and unbelievers hanging out together on Sunday morning to sing a few songs, listen to a nice sermon, and do a few service projects. The early church wasn’t a gathering where people come to be introduced to Jesus and feel good about themselves. No, the church was a group of people who already believed in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2). They each brought their gifts of the Spirit and held each other accountable (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). Paul called them to love God and love each.
The early church didn’t open its door to everyone.
The early church was a group of people who had formerly been alcoholics, adulterers, homosexuals, idolaters, and thieves; but who had been washed, sanctified, and justified by Jesus.
Paul said the church should judge those in the church and hold each other to a higher standard of godliness, but not to judge those outside of the church.
The early church removed from the church those who claimed to be Christians but were practicing sin and refused to stop.
Paul called on the church to be set aside. To love others and live godly moral lives. When the outside world looks at the church, it should see a group of people loving and living like no one else.
I don’t see any evidence that the early church went out and invited their neighbors to attend a church service to learn about Jesus. No, they went out into the world and shared the gospel, and once people were converted they were invited into the church.
The early church didn’t grow from slick marketing campaigns or having the most bells and whistles. It grew because its members made converts and brought the new believers into the church.
Speaking for myself, I know I am complacent. Do I share the gospel with anyone? No. Sure, I’ll tell people I’m a Christian and mention I go to church and might even invite people to church and hope the church service converts them. But sharing the gospel? Getting into the scary topics that might offend? Nope.
Do I feel confident that the others who attend my church will be bold enough to call me out on the sin they see in my life, as the Bible instructs? (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Thessalonians 5:14). No.
Was the early church perfect? No, there were problems. They were humans just like us.
Does today’s church in North America do lots of good? Yes. Christians give generously, serve others, hold Bible studies and more.
But do we really reflect the church that was described by Paul? Not that I’ve seen. And maybe that is just my personal experience. Maybe the church that was described in the New Testament is active and alive today, and I’m just missing it.
Or maybe we’ve gotten a little off track of what church should be.