In a world in which a premium is placed on having what we want, when we want it…
In a society in which we our constantly told that every need can be met, and every problem can be solved…
In a culture in which we are bombarded with images of false perfection and, static idealism…
In a community in which everyone is expected to remain part of a mobile workforce willing to forgo the growing of deep roots for fear of missing out on opportunities to advance our status…
I can think of few things more counter-culturally necessary than joining a church.
Why? Because the church (if done right) is one of the only places on the planet in which the people around you will tell you that you can’t have everything you want, when you want it; every need cannot be met, every problem cannot be solved, and nobody is perfect; idealism is an illusion, and all the upward mobility in the world cannot make you safe and happy.
Church membership is not only relevant, it is a radical act of defiance to the self-service god’s of our culture. A church that does not promise to meet your every need offers you the space to look inside your own soul to the source of what is killing you. This church offers you the space to stop waiting on those around you to fix themselves, and to look at your own life instead. Only when the church stops providing you the pacifier that keeps you quiet without any real nourishment, will you finally begin to ask the hard questions your soul is calling you to ask.
Joining a church is subversive. It requires the kind of ego-bending commitment out of which a true soul can be forged. What could be more essential to our sense of self, helpful to our pursuit of wholeness, and basic to human flourishing than to learn how to tell the truth about our lives while living in fidelity to other broken people?
To be fair, churches don’t always make it easy. We have to confess that we can make membership obsolete when, like whitewashed tombs, everyone puts on a good show of having it all together. Instead of relating in our weakness, we relate in a false sense of strength. It’s counterproductive. Membership in a community that has not yet learned how to be real with each other? Why Bother?
Joining a ragamuffin community, however, a church full of broken people who are committed to try and worship Christ in all things? That can be nothing short of miraculous. Don’t get me wrong. It will be difficult. You will be disappointed and hurt. You will be let down and disillusioned. Yet, a church that refuses to fix everything for you, to meet your needs, or to provide you with religious goods and services offers a great gift.
I often find myself telling my congregation: everything we need in order to flourish is already here in this church. All it takes is a bunch of followers of Jesus who are willing to try and tell the truth about their lives, and to commit to living in fidelity with one another as they pursue God’s kingdom, and miracles can happen. But none of it works without fidelity. None of it moves forward without forgiveness, and bearing with one another in love. When that happens, resurrection happens… new creation happens. It’s a thing of beauty. Love is fidelity over time. The church is meant to be a community of love, and it doesn’t work without fidelity.
The church is one of the only institutions I know of (along with marriage) in which we are commanded to bear with one another even when other people don’t live up to their end of the bargain. That’s what a covenantal relationship is all about. A contract says, if you do this, I’ll do that. A covenantal says, even if you don’t to that, I’ll still do this. I’ll never stop forgiving, loving, bearing with you because God is like that.
Here are the covenant commitments we make to each other every year on Pentecost Sunday at Redemption Church. Brand new members and old crusty Redemptionites all repeat the commitments together. The lines are adapted from the baptismal liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer:
Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, and trust only in the blood of Christ and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit for your salvation? (We Do)
Do you commit yourselves to Redemption Church, to love and serve her through your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your faithful devotion? (We Do)
Will you continue in the teachings of the scriptures, in fellowship with one another, with the breaking of bread together, and in prayer for one another? (We Will)
Do you seek to persevere in faithfulness, resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, to repent and return always to the Lord? (We Do)
Will you proclaim by the words you say, and by the way you live, the Good News of God in Christ? (We Will)
Do you commit yourselves to “seek first the kingdom of God,” and to serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? (We Do)
Then with hearts overflowing with joy we recognize you as a member of the church universal and of this body, Redemption Church, and we receive you into the fellowship of this communion. May the Lord bless, preserve, and keep you in the commitments you have made here on this day, and in this place, and guide you in faithful service to his church.