I have been reading a very fascinating book entitled, “Real Church: Does it Exist? Can I Find It?” by Larry Crabb. I am only on chapter seven right now but already I find it very provocative and immediately insightful. I have applied many of the questions Crabb has posed into my own self-reflections and have a few thoughts I want to share with you.
I was pondering upon the following question:
What is a church and what purpose does it serve?
Is it simply a place where spiritually like-minded people gather to worship and give praise to God? Is it a place of obligation or is it a place where the willing adherent chooses to rededicate themselves to God out of joy and gratitude rather than guilt? Is a church a commodity where people simply hope to have a good time listening to contemporary praise music, feel good about themselves for an hour, chip something in the collection plate, and hope to have some kind of spiritual experience strong enough to carry them through the rest of the week?
What does a church actually do? What do people actually get out of attending a church or temple or mosque?
When I was growing up, church seemed to be the place I went on Sundays with my grandmother to hear stories from the Bible. These stories would be at least two thousand years old and tell of people who lived in Palestine or Judea or Samaria or Galilee doing things unheard of or unimaginable. Usually the stories had some moral lesson or moral principle behind them. Not always. Sometimes the stories simply reminded me that there is a force in the world and in the universe that is greater than me directing the course of events as they unfold.
Church was a place where candles were lit, prayers were recited, and hymns were sung. There was ritual and ceremony. There were sacraments and “events” and a church calendar that corresponded to stories in the Bible. But what was the whole purpose of church? Just to teach moral values through stories?
I got to thinking that maybe the reason why many folks left the church and why it took me a long time to go back to church was because I failed to see any meaningful reason or value to church.
If the whole purpose of church and religion is to prepare the soul for the afterlife, doesn’t it sort of reduce the value of life on Earth? Earth seems rather meaningless and hopeless and pathetic compared to the splendor and majesty of heaven. So why are we even here on Earth? What’s the point? Biblically speaking, we are saved by God’s grace alone and no manner of good deeds and Levitical or Mosaic law is going to make us any less of a sinner. It has been said numerous times that there is none righteous but Jesus and that the following of all the laws and regulations and restrictions would be impossible. So why bother? What’s the point of anything when no matter what, at the point of our deaths, we are going to be judged worthy or not of heaven. Heaven is the goal but we can do almost nothing to get there.
With this in mind, I got to thinking. Earth cannot be just a throwaway creation after the Fall of Man. Earth cannot be a waste of time and a waste of God’s creation. He created the Earth and created us for a purpose– and it has to be more than just to serve and worship Him. We don’t need a Earth to worship God. All we need is a soul capable of worshiping. Yet here we are, on Earth, surrounded by countless creations. We exist in bodies and we are given skills, talents, personalities, and all sorts of interesting things to interact with.
Now some may say that since the Fall of Man, the Earth has strayed from its original purposes and all its creations have gone off the deep end away from God. Earth was supposed to be a very different place than what it is today. Perhaps Heaven and Earth were much closer to each other than they seem to be now. Maybe God’s plan had undergone a major revision as soon as Satan tempted Eve and then Adam. And maybe Satan is running the show here on Earth to see just how far off the mark we can get? Maybe the situation is such that Earth is becoming a lost cause because we have lost sight of what God intended for us and we no longer trust God or His plans?
Church then seems to be the place where we find our souls and train our souls to worship God again. Church seems to be our place of refuge and sanctuary away from the pulling and tugging of Satan’s forces and influences upon us. Maybe church is where we go to find God again and get the insights we need in this life so that we will be ready for the next one.
Earth may be a proving ground. Earth may be the school where we learn how to be fully developed souls. Earth may be the place where we first learn to appreciate God’s creation in the midst of adversity and trial so that when the time comes, we will fully understand just how glorious heaven is.
Church can be more simple than that. It could just be a gathering of people who yearn to know and understand God. And maybe that is all it is.