My friend Bier commented on a recent post:
So, if one wants to leave behind so many traditional concepts and structures, shed blemishes from the past ~2000 years or so, and open the gates wider than ever for discussion and outreach to multiple communities...
...why does it still need to be called a church? In the secular portion of today's society, the word carries a stigma created by acts from the Spanish Inquisition to Jim Bakker. With intentions of spiritual glasnost and structural perestroika, maybe it needs a new name.
In the end, I'm not disagreeing with you or your lunchmate. I just think maybe it should be called something else. I know you well enough that I'd be happy to go to something you call "church". But almost anyone else would have a much easier time getting me to go to lunch with five of her/his friends than to anything (s)he referred to using the c-word.
I’ve been thinking about these words for a week or so and I wonder, are we in a post-church society?
Post- is thrown on a bunch of words these days, particularly in Christian circles. There’s postmodern, post-evangelical, post-denomination…you get the point. But, does that prefix belong on a 2000-year-old world as well?
Granted, I understand Bier’s comments and the viewpoint voicing them. Is his concern simply one of naming, or does it go deeper into intention, community, and direction?
Churches have been disguising themselves for years. They hand out food to the hungry, but only if they’ll listen to a sermon. The church plays fun games with kids, but then drops a Bible story on them. The church offers counseling and a place to get married, but you get a discount if you’re a member. The church usually has some way of sneaking the message in through the backdoor, making it almost ineffective and even embarrassing.
So what about this is wrong? Should the church be more up front that it wants to increase its membership, and this is why it is offering free pizza to the college kids this Friday? Or, should they just buy pizza, eat it with everyone, and go home? With church, it’s never just a question of what. There is always a question of why.
And so, as Bier suggested, perhaps 2000 years worth of abuse, naming, fighting, misguided intentions and memories should be tossed out. Start it over. Put the word ‘church’ in the landfill next to ‘pew.’ Call it instead ‘lunch.’ Or ‘bowling.’
So, would a church by any other name smell as sweet? Sometimes, I’ll hear about someone or some church or some group of people, or some organization helping someone and doing something really good. And in that, I see the church. It may not be a church, it may not call itself a church, and it may be made up of folks who think the Christian Coalition hijacked Jesus a long time ago and don’t want anything to do with him. But, I’ll know in that moment that is what the church is supposed to look like. Because when the church is at her best, man, it’s beautiful. People are getting fed, friendships are being born, people are making a difference, and everyone is connecting to God. The logistics of this, like place, time, style or name (which we like to fight long and hard about) fall into the landfill, and we feel like we can walk through any kind of crap together.
This is why we stepped out on a linmb. I’ve had to think about all of this as we’ve begun meeting in a community and calling ourselves the story. We want to honestly and authentically try to follow Jesus, and believe that we come to a deeper understanding of him when we can talk to other folks and ask questions together.
Because the point cannot be fatter membership roles. And the point of ‘saving’ people was probably sold to you by someone who misunderstood Scripture. The warped notion that only the destination matters is the stuff that doesn’t sustain communities. But, the notion of the journey truly motivates us to serve others, seeing to it that you are happy and well fed, because when you are, I will be, too.