IS THE CHURCH THE PROBLEM?
I admit I don't know what "balance" would look or feel like if I saw or experienced it. I suppose part of the reason for that would be that life is a stream rather than a static reality; the person is always changing so life is always in some kind of flux. What does "balance" mean under such circumstances?
But I confess to feeling myself becoming emotionally tired when I hear the constant talk about "personal" experience. Most of the time I feel sure that there's way too much talk about how I can fine-tune my relationship with God. There's an endless stream of books and blogs and seminars and retreats that constantly harp on about our need to experience God more intimately and find life with him more psychologically and emotionally fulfilling.
The Reformation brought us riches beyond description and led us to places from which we'll never go back and from places we never want to go back to, but parasites (helped by the worst aspects of the Enlightenment) came with it. Individualism and "what's in it for me" has become a plague that has swept through religious communities of every stripe. The "church," as the community of those redeemed by God in and through Jesus Christ, the witness to and bearer of the gospel for the world, has to become the warehouse of spiritual/emotional/social satisfaction or it's judged to be useless. People go church-shopping and their question isn't, "What's your gospel here?" It has become, "What do you have to offer me and mine?"
This kind of attitude is defended in various ways and some of the defenses have the appearance of good common sense and consequently the question is asked without apology. Others, who think that that cavalier way of putting it is a bit too crass, attack the shortcomings of the church and suggest that we should back away from it because it really is an enemy of true spiritual perception. The church (not just some particular congregation that's filled with bitterness and nonsense), they say, stifles their growth and vision of Jesus Christ. It reduces and partially blinds them, maybe even completely blinds them.
But then again, there's something sinister-sounding in that so the case has to be made more carefully. It isn't exactly the church that drugs them into a stupor; it's a "church mindset", a "church culture". And the cure, so we're told, is to walk away from the church in order to...wait for it...to truly come back to the church. Leave the straight jacket, find freedom and depth apart from church community and then you can come back to it.
It's all very wise, don't you know. And I take it that what this church culture is said to be doing to some poor souls it's doing to all of us. I suppose that the only way for us all to be cured is to forsake that community for maybe a year or two (three or four might be better and ten or twelve or a near lifetime might be better still). That way we'll feel personally fulfilled and richly blessed and after all, our individual relationship with God is the thing that matters most. Well, okay, maybe the community matters more but unless we're all individually liberated by an extended "church-less" detox experience, the church will continue to be a toxic reality.
[Should it surprise us then that there are churches that major in structuring corporate worship so that it'll attract people, make them "feel" blessed; assemblies that offer many programs and classes to cater for everyone's interests? "Felt needs" become the driver in such assemblies. You see it in the "Bible Versions" that roll off the press. Bibles particularly geared for young people, old people, military personnel and their families, single parents, sports enthusiasts, nature lovers, husbands and wives, romantic couples. Advisors to publishers go through with highlighters and underline verses from anywhere, meaning anything in context, just as long as they can be made to "fit" somebody or other.That's tragic but more tragic is this: there's a market for this kind of stuff. Then there are Bible classes for young marrieds, older marrieds, single people, single again, divorced or widowed, young adults, professionals and on and on and on. Sigh.]
I wonder if this dolorous kind of talk about the Church is the result of a jaundiced eye and/or a weary soul that's searching for a very personal uplift. Sometimes it's presented as something that would truly redeem the church but as Jeremiah insisted there's just no limit to the degree to which we can con ourselves.
I can understand poor souls thinking that some particular assemblies need a reawakening, do you think that surprising? I think I've read about a few of those in the book of Revelation. Yes, I can see how some people would feel the need of personal renewal because they are experiencing the burden of a dead congregation that thinks it's alive. Maybe (I'm not sure of anything on this point)—maybe they need to move to another assembly. But I'm convinced that the "wise ones" who are capable of assessing "the entire church thing" and judging it to be the instrument of spiritual suffocation are saying more about themselves than about the church.
So is there to be no personal satisfaction? Is life in and as "the body of Christ" to be as dull and plodding and impersonal as some leaders and assemblies seem to suggest? God forbid! A psalmist had it right when he jumped up and shouted, "O taste and see that the Lord is good!" And Psalm 23 is about a man who jumps up in the middle of an assembly and says, "I just want to say…I just want to say…that in my life, even when times have been hard, I've found God to be a faithful protector and provider and that even if serious trouble lies ahead for me I'm persuaded beyond debate that He'll be there and get me safely through them while he gains his glorious purpose through my being in this world!"
We don't need to leave the church to find life. We need our leaders to major in what fills our hearts with faith so that the satisfaction we look for—the joy-filled satisfaction that reaches right down into the foundations of our lives—is the healthy, enduring, faithful, God-imaging and world-defying kind.