Thursday, 9 October 2014

The perfect church

One thing I love about the Bible is that it hides nothing but just tells the truth even if at times that truth is painful. This is one of the reasons I believe it is an authentic record of the people and situations it writes about. From Adam's ambition, through Noah's shortcomings and Abram's cowardice - passing off his wife as his sister to save his own skin - all the way down to the bunch of squabbling disciples, the divided Church in Corinth and ending up with the self-important church of Laodicea. It is a saga of people's self-centred sin and God's magnificent mercy from beginning to end. Not that the account of God's people is ended, for today the same stories are being told among us and churches up and down the land are "full of hypocrites" as our critics quite rightly claim. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) writes Paul, and he should know because he was "chief" (1 Timothy 1:15).

Which is why any search for the perfect church is doomed to failure. Not that people ever claim that they are looking for such a rarity. No, if you ask them they will deny that that is their goal. Instead they will tell you that they are looking for a church with more youth, or with better facilities, or somewhere which is "child-friendly" or which preaches the gospel. Or they will be looking for somewhere with a car park, or has services later in the morning or one that that is open to the Spirit. They will tell you they don't like liturgy or they love liturgy. Or that they want a young minister who has a family or a mature one who has "seen a bit of life." They will point out the fact that this one has no atmosphere or that one is too noisy or the one down the street is too high (and smoky) or the other is too low and lacks reverence! Some are too far away and others too close where they know - and dislike - everybody! Others are draughty and dim and others are happy-clappy. So they aren't looking for the perfect church, just one that fits them like a glove and caters for every conceivable need.

One of the criticisms I have received over the years was that not many people went to my church and therefore there must, by implication, be no spiritual life there. After all if God was at work it would be bursting at the seams. What they failed to think through, however, is that event the smallest churches started with one and what they see is the fruit of years of hard work and faithful witness. I have now got an answer for such detractors. I tell them that if they want to go and be at the end rather than the start of a work of God, then go with my blessing. Personally I would rather sow what others reap rather than reap what others have sown.

At the moment St. James - my church - is experiencing the struggles of trying to build something here in the Uplands. It puts me in mind of the days I used to be an apprentice bricklayer. As we were learning the trade we were inevitably put on the footings or the foundation of the building. That way as long as our bricks were laid properly it did not matter what they looked like because, inevitably, they would be buried underground. Once we got up so high, the "professionals" would come and build the rest of the houses on top of what we did. It was not easy work having to contend with mud, cold weather - at times - and the struggle of working in ditches. When we finished all the people would see was the finished product, but we knew that without what we did there would be no house.

Its a bit like that building the church. At the start its hard going, three steps forward and two (or even three) steps back. But slowly the church rises and people begin to see what God is doing. So instead of beating myself up - which I am good at doing - because things are so slow and tough, I get my head down and keep praying. This is God's Church. He knows what He is doing and the sort of people He needs to get the job done. I am here because He called me and as long as He did I am in the right church. Its not perfect - but neither am I! In fact we are a perfect fit. All I need is more imperfect people and we're away. As Jesus said: "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
(Luke 5:32). Where can I find them?

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