by: Jim McGuiggan
That’s an ugly expression but it reflects on an ugly thing that has become part of Western Christianity. In a world where individualism is pandemic and our “rights” have become a near obsession “church shopping” isn’t too shabby a phrase to cover what we do. And yet, we ought to be shopping.
P.T. Forsyth a Scots theologian of some years ago became incensed when he thought of the way churches were viewed and viewed themselves. He thundered out against people asking what the church’s programmes were like, what it could do for them as potential members or what its record of successes was like. He insisted that we shouldn’t ask for its programmes or even its piety but instead we should ask, “What is your gospel?” He was blisteringly, scathingly and cuttingly right! For what difference does it make how successful it is as a religious body or how well it caters for the youth or how involved it is in community benevolence if its gospel is not the “gospel”?
I admitted at the beginning of these suggestions that there’s something silly about pretending I could begin again. But I now know that what makes a church great and what makes a church the kind of church that I should urge my family to be involved with is one that knows and loves the gospel that centres in the God who ultimately revealed himself in Jesus Christ at the cross.
Not only do all Christians need to be part of a local congregation of Christ, they should be. We aren’t strong enough to make it on our own. We are sub-Christian if we attempt to make it on our own. Christians have been added to the Body of Christ, which manifests itself in and as local assemblies.
But see to it that you look out for a congregation that focuses on the gospel of God. That understands what the church is and is not to be. A church that will feed you on the living bread of Christ. A church where the teachers take seriously their calling and work with scripture so that they will shape all the members for service to God in a body which is indeed the body of Christ.
All good advice no doubt but how do the inexperienced go about this? Yes, this is a tricky question. Well, when in trusting repentance you’ve been baptised into union with the living Christ you are his so trust him to help you find such a place. Tell him it’s the kind of place you want because you’re hungry to get to know and love him so you can reach out and bless others also. Rejoice in the hunger you feel for the rich truth of the gospel because it’s God’s work in you and fervently ask him for more. Listen to what’s being offered, what’s usually talked about in classes and from pulpits and you’ll get to know if that church is parading itself or the Master. Is it ceaselessly “issue” oriented, endlessly asking for money to support its projects or is it clear that it’s central business is to “grow”? If you’ve no reason to believe that God’s redeeming work in Christ for the world is the vibrant centre of that church’s faith and that reverent attention is paid to God’s word you need to continue praying and looking. But if you have reason to believe that their benevolence, community outreach and moral development is fuelled by the big, rich truths of the gospel you should thank God and stick to that group like glue.
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