When I talk about recapturing what it means to be apostles of Christ - to take the Gospel into the world, to loosen our grip on our Old Testament faith and embrace a New Testament grace (see previous posts this week) - it's easy to assume I'm condemning the church, but in truth, I'm doing no such thing.
The argument too easily becomes this kind of tension that we feel between wanting to create the kind of church that Jesus would 'approve of' (whatever that means) and staunchly believing that Jesus would never step foot into our churches anyway. And that's the wrong argument.
It's the wrong argument for a lot of reasons, but let's start with this one: it still places the emphasis on us. It still makes it about something that we're doing. Either we create a church that gets the thumbs up from Heaven, by our own works, of course, and by doing and being all of the things there that Jesus wants us to be...or we abandon our church and take on that nomadic thing that Jesus talked about, living the kind of external, physical life that He had. See how that's still all about us and still not about Him?
We get all hung up on this idea of the church, and it's not the thing. It's not the thing if we get it perfectly right and do it perfectly well, and it's not the thing if we bungle it all up and mess it up beyond repair (not that anything is beyond the repair of Jesus, but you get the point). It's just not the thing.
Would Jesus step foot in our churches? He absolutely would. Right now. Right as they are. We found Him, after all, in the synagogues. He frequented the Temple. He didn't hold an Old Testament faith Himself - He was a man living under grace - but He came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. He came rooted in the foundations of historic Judaism, and He wasn't anti-Temple. He wasn't anti-synagogue. He sat in the circle of the elders and listened and learned, and when it was His time, He spoke and walked away...and then not too long later, we find Him again at Solomon's Porch. Jesus knew that one of the best places to find those who were receptive to His Gospel was at the religious establishment.
In other words, Jesus would absolutely come to our churches...to find us.
That statement right there probably blows a lot of minds. We're so focused on our programming and our production and our printed materials that we spend so much of our Christian ministry trying to create something Jesus would love, and we forget that there's something in our churches that Jesus already loves: us. And it's enough to get Him coming back to us again and again and again. The reason Jesus comes into your church is...you. And for that reason alone, He will always be there.
Does that mean that's where we should camp out in our faith? Absolutely not. Does that mean that we should put our emphasis on the place where Jesus comes to us? Again, no. Because the story of Jesus, the Good News of Jesus, the Gospel of Christ, is not just the God who comes to us, but the God who calls us out to Him. The God who sends us into a hurting world. The God whose desire for us is not that we'd get His church right, but that we'd get our hearts right.
A few paragraphs ago, I said that our trouble is that we keep conceiving of these ideas where it's still all about us, and for the apostles and the early church, that wasn't the thing. For them, it was all about Him. And it wasn't about His physical life; it was about His heart.
See, we put all this pressure on ourselves to get our outward appearance right. We hypocrites! We brood of snakes! Jesus would call us out for that, no matter how right we appear to be getting it. He'd condemn us the same way He condemned the pharisees. What Jesus wants from us is not a faith that does church right or a faith that forsakes the church for a kind of nomadic ministry; what He wants from us is a love that is rooted deeply in the love of the Father and lives out of a heart that is constantly regenerate, always coming back to a place to grow and to become and to glorify the Lord. He doesn't want us to go to a garden to pray; He wants us to entrust our cup to the Father who hears the words we can't even utter. He doesn't care if we wander the streets proclaiming good news to everyone we pass; He wants us on a path toward righteousness, preaching the Gospel along the way. The Christian life is not about getting our feet dirty in the homes of sinners; it's about not even noticing someone's sin as the most true thing about them. It's not about the places we go, but the heart that we live from.
And that includes in our churches, whether you've got the latest technology and a staff of fifteen to run every program conceivable to meet every need or you've got hymnals and a songboard and one guy who drives a school bus during the week but is willing to preach on Sundays.
It's time to stop worrying about how we build our temples and start living like grace really is the thing. Because if it is (and that's not really an 'if' - it is), then it's enough for us, too.