When we talk about the church, it's important that we be extremely clear on what we're talking about. As we have seen this week, there are a lot of misconceptions about what the church is or what it should be. But we haven't even hit on one of the most important ones.
Earlier this week, I started reading a new book where the author expresses concern for the way that the church is functioning. And that's certainly something that we all ought to be paying attention to all the time - we want to be a people who are doing our one anothering God's way. We want to make sure that the church is always what God intended for the church to be, to the best of our ability.
But what this author actually said was that he fears for the future of "the American church."
Therein lies the problem.
Friends, there is no such thing as the American church. None. It simply doesn't exist. It never has, and it never will. (Okay, there is actually some historical precedent that says that yes, it could happen. There was, after all, a Church of England that very successfully conflated theology and patriotism but remember, that's what caused pilgrims to go searching for and settling America in the first place - they didn't like the way the state church was telling them they had to worship.)
History aside, though, and theologically speaking, there is no such thing as the American church, nor should there be. Every church, every single worshiping body, every single fellowship of believers, every single community of one anothering ought to be God's church.
And when and if we can get that distinction correct, there will be no need to fear for the future of it.
But that's how we've done it, isn't it? We made the church first a center of evangelism where we teach persons about Jesus, rather than doing that on the streets where Jesus actually showed us that the best ministry happens, and then, we decided that while we have them in our building, we'll teach them how to make a better America for all of us by telling them - not showing them, but telling them - what God desires for His people and then, we try to unleash our churches on the world to set the parameters under which we should all live when, in fact, we aren't even getting that stuff right inside the church because we have made our churches so much of what they are not supposed to be and gotten so far away from what God desires of us.
In other words, we have made our churches places in which we think we're building the shape of America and in that sense, we have created an "American" church - a church for the sake of America. But again, that's not what we're supposed to be. That's not what we were supposed to do. And if that's really where we've come (and I think, sadly, in too many places, it is), then I want the future of the American church to be in jeopardy.
I want the American church to die so that we can be God's church again, the way we were meant to be.
I don't know. This is just stuff that you have to be paying attention to. That we have to be paying attention to. There are so many Christians, even Christians that I know and love, who would have read the words that I read - that this author fears for the future of the American church - and gone, "Oh, no!" But for me, that's nothing to worry about. We aren't supposed to be an American church.
We're supposed to be God's church.
And I absolutely never worry about the future of God's church.