Tuesday 12 March 2013

On having faith in the church instead of in God

Some time ago, over at Living Gently, she said this (well, technically, she said someone else had said this. She didn't say who though, so I don't know and can't attribute it. Meh, so sue me):
"…people generally have little or no faith in God: their faith is in the church. Then, when the church fails (inevitable), they lose their faith."
I thought this was epic, and promised to blog on it. Then I did precisely nothing about it, because I'm lazy. I let you all down. This is why you shouldn't put your faith in me. Still, I'm getting round to it now, so you know, would it kill you to be grateful?

First a warning: this post is all about church and God and stuff, so if you're only here for the Comedy Guides to Childcare and so on, I'd save yourself the next 5 minutes and leave now. Come back soon, though. We'll miss you.  And I might have one on Wedding Planning soon, because I seem to be doing Quite Well at that.

So, yes, on having faith in the church rather than in God. A lot of people do this. I probably do this. But we shouldn't do it, because it is Not The Best Way To Do Things.

Unfortunately, it appears to be the default setting for lots of my generation at least. We talk about finding "a good church", and finding "a place that will help me grow" (or, even worse "a church that grows me") and finding "somewhere that really connects me to God" (please note, if you use that last phrase around me, it makes me feel stabby towards you). As if the purpose of church is to do all these things for us.

While pondering all this, I came across this quote from East Belfast Mission's Twitter feed:
@ebelfastmission: "We can not wait for great vision from great people because they are in short supply. We must light our own small fires in the darkness"
See, this is the thing.  It seems to me that we spend a lot of time waiting for other people to inspire us to do things.  We think that we'd do awesome stuff if only we had a good leader or more people to help us or a bit more cash to spend.  We'd love to understand the Bible, but we need someone to explain it to us.  We love to really be led into worshipping God.  And so on, and so forth.  But, then, when it doesn't happen, we ditch those people, and move on to new people, and then they don't really help much, and then eventually we run out of people, so we try to go it alone for a while, and then we give up on the enterprise entirely.

As I've said before, I believe that the local church is the hope of the world.  I think God more or less says this in the Bible.  Not those exact words, but the general sentiment.  But we seem to be sitting around waiting for the church to look a bit more like something that might be the hope of the world, because we're putting our faith in the church.  What we should be doing is putting our faith in God and thereby, as the church, becoming the hope of the world.

This means that we don't get discouraged when we look around church and don't like what we see.  Instead, we look for the good, and we celebrate that, and we wonder what on earth it is that God's going to do through this group of wasters, and we get excited about that and get stuck in, and be thankful that there are other people turning up at all, because when things get rough, chances are it's going to be one of those people that God works through to help us out.  And also because, if God works through all these other wasters, then He might also work through me, and it would be nice to be around for when it happens.  We remind ourselves that the disciples weren't the most inspiring bunch of people, and that they did All Right In The End, what with the Holy Spirit to stop them completely fecking it all up and all.

It means that we don't sit around waiting for the worship to inspire us.  Instead, we turn up with an attitude of worship, because we recognise that worship is what we do all the time, every day, and if we're not "feeling it" during the service, it may be because we didn't bring it with us, so maybe we should pray a bit about that, or at least accept that it happens sometimes and not get too hung up about it.  We express our thanks to the people who take time to prepare the music, and, if necessary, we remind ourselves of CS Lewis' little anecdote from when he first showed up at church:
"I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered fifth rate poetry set to sixth rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots."
It means that we don't go home and complain that the minister didn't explain the Bible passage well enough; instead, we appreciate that we were pointed to the Bible at all, and we pray about not understanding it, and we read it a bit ourselves, and we see what we think, and maybe we ask some other people or take a look online and see if we can figure it out a bit better, and then maybe we find we're actually capable of figuring it out for ourselves and maybe that's a good thing.

It means that we don't complain that no one ever helps us with the things we do in church, but instead we take time to invest in people, help them figure out their talents, and then be prepared to stand back and watch them fly.

It means that when we face opposition or complaining about stuff that we're doing, instead of being all huffy and offended and upset and giving up, we turn to God in prayer, and ask if what we're doing is what He really wants, and if it's not then we give it up and try something else, and if it is then we carry on and don't listen to the condemning voices of the people around us, because those are not ultimately the voices that matter.

In short, it means we stop sitting around waiting for things to be better, and for people to inspire us, and for our church to catch a grip and start doing things in The Proper Christian Way, and we start looking for ways in which we can make things better, and we honestly ask God what He thinks, and then we trust that God will be the one we listen to, and then we realise that there is no Proper Christian Way, but there is only God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, because otherwise it would be all about us, and, well, that would suck.

Of course, it's possible that I'm entirely wrong, but that's fine, because by this point you will have realised that you shouldn't have too much faith in me and that probably the best thing that could happen now is that I stop talking and you listen to God instead.

Of course, if you're not really into God and church and stuff, and were really only here for the Comedy Guides, well, you've probably just waste 5 minutes of your life, but, frankly, I warned you, and it turns out you should have had faith in me after all.  Heh.  Ironic.