If you were to ask me what kind of Christian I am (as in what denomination do I belong) I would most likely tilt my head, throw up my hands, and shrug. I might say something like, “I don’t really know. I guess I’m a bit of a mixed bag.”
I don’t like being a mixed bag. I really don’t.
I am a member of a community church with a Reformed Baptist pastor. I often attend two churches on Sundays, one of those being Presbyterian. I read Lutheran theology for fun and faithfully listen to my Anglican friends’ online sermons.
As you can see, I don’t fit in with any one denomination. My husband and I are still trying to figure this all out.
I am not saying this to be different. I’m not trying to be a mystic and have Jesus my own way. Or create my own special worship “Happy Meal” by picking and choosing from the theological menu that is offered hoping it comes with a new prize that I don’t already have. I’m not a rebel or a trailblazer as some have misunderstood me to be. I’m not out to join a movement or change the world. I just want to worship Christ and him crucified.
Just the other day I was lamenting to a likeminded friend that it feels that there is no room for someone like me; a square peg amongst the round holes of churches with neatly thought out doctrinal statements that I can’t seem to wholeheartedly embrace. I believe my words to her were, “I’m not sure that I am a Calvinist, I’m not broadly evangelical, and I’m not a Lutheran/Anglican/Episcopalian. Where is there a place for people like us who are not on the baptism bandwagon yet love law/gospel and long for liturgy?”
Maybe there was some self-pity tied up in this statement. Actually there was quite a bit. What I was really saying was that I want a church that serves me everything. I want a church that I can wholeheartedly embrace and trust and never have to engage in hard conversations with.
The problem is that the Christian life is not a comfortable life. A thinking Christian will always have questions. There is danger in blindly tying yourself to one church, one ministry, one man etc without having the hard conversations.
I know that some of you have been sadly burned by the church. You hurt and long for a place of safety; a place that you can trust. You hear others speak of their churches as if they have found Mecca. They boast about the pastor dropping gospel bombs and their small group’s never-ending love and care for their family. You wonder why you can’t find a church with even an ounce of what they seem to be experiencing.
I’ll let you in on a secret…though it may appear so; they have not found the perfect church. You will never find the perfect church. I will never find the perfect church. Perhaps maybe we need to start asking ourselves more questions about why we don’t feel like we belong instead of why the church can’t seem to meet our needs.
I’m not denying the fact that it’s hard to find a church that faithfully delivers the goods week after week. I’m not ignoring that sad reality that there are destructive churches out there that we should run far, far away from. I am simply suggesting that we (yes, me too) ask ourselves the hard question of “What do I expect? What is my pride holding me back from accepting doctrinally or maybe even just practically?”
It’s easier to sit at home and listen to the sermon of my choosing. It’s easier to hand pick a group of people that I get along with and agree with theologically. It’s easier to dream about a church in which everything is run how I want it to be, preached how I would preach it, and have the programs that I want to be involved in. But then I remind myself that living with others isn’t easy. Church isn’t always easy. Family isn’t always easy. Life here on earth just isn’t all that easy. What did I expect?
Instead of looking at the church and other Christians as threats, perhaps we can look at them as fellow believers, gifts from God to help us to grow in Christ, fellow saints who have also had to ask hard questions and confront their own pride in order to be there. We can run to Christ, ask him for clarity and contentment knowing that he longs for us to have a body to serve and be served in. Part of Christ loving us is providing for us the opportunity to be involved in a local church.
The church is a big part of my life and I don’t plan on giving up on it. But one thing that I have learned is that while it is good to have high expectations for the church, it will never provide for you what Christ alone can provide. It simply cannot fulfill your every longing. It is a means of grace, a gift to help us to grow. And as we all welcome growth we know that it often comes in ways that we would not choose.
The church is messy and we may never feel like we belong. Such is life for those who live between the already and the not yet. Thankfully every bit of Colossians 3:4 is true,
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Christ is our life right now and forever. And one day all of the questions and the hard conversations will exist no more. One day we will all happily worship together as a perfected church. Until then we press on imperfectly serving imperfect people in an imperfect church. And God gives us the grace to do just that.