I grew up in church. I loved it, I hated it, and I fell in love with it again. I studied it and all its foundations in Bible College. I saw it from various angles and various countries. It has sheltered me, wounded me, expelled me, betrayed me, and welcomed me again. In it I have felt rooted and safe, vulnerable and exposed, and disconnected and estranged. In my heart I cry, "There's got to be a better way of doing church."
Some might contest that, 'it's not perfect, but it's the best we've got.' Of course it's not perfect, it's made up of imperfect people and church, at its core, is a community of believers. However, defending the way church is being done by pointing out its imperfect nature is not a means of addressing the problem or providing a solution. And saying 'it's the best we've got' almost implies that a new way isn't available to us and therefore one cannot abandon the current way. Some might even protest the very idea of questioning an institution far older than I.
These are all valid, but not enough to discredit the fact that for hundreds of thousands of people church simply doesn't work. In fact, for many it hurts. Who's to say a "better way" isn't out there?
“In a quip that makes the rounds, Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom, but it was the church that came. All these years later, the way many of us are doing church is broken and we know it, even if we do not know what to do about it. We proclaim the priesthood of all believers while we continue with hierarchical clergy, liturgy, and architecture. We follow a Lord who challenged the religious and political institutions of his time while we fund and defend our own. We speak and sing of divine transformation while we do everything in our power to maintain our equilibrium. If redeeming things continue to happen to us in spite of these deep contradictions in our life together, then I think that is because God is faithful even when we are not.”― Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith
For ancient Jews there was one temple (temple being a house of assembly where prayers and sacrifices were offered) and there was the Sabbath. If one lived near the temple in Jerusalem, one may go to temple on the Sabbath to hear the reading of the Torah. However, if one did not live in Jerusalem they may only go to temple on a pilgrimage three times a year at most (once in the fall, twice in the spring).1
Then Jesus comes on the scene and shows people a new way of thinking and living. He starts talking about the temple being destroyed both literally2 and figuratively- in John 2 Jesus refers to His body as the temple and how it will be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.3 At the moment of His death on the cross the veil in the temple, separating people from the holy of holies, tears in two giving all access to God4; symbolically for both Jews and Gentiles.5
One temple is nullified and what do we do over the next thousands of years but erect another in its stead. For thousands of years we've been tweaking and reforming this "temple", but were we ever meant to build it in the first place? Have we resurrected walls that were torn down by God for a reason? We believe that we are all priests. We believe that our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit. And yet we insist that there is no better way to encounter God than in a church. Is that what Jesus taught? Is that what Jesus died for; to create a new church? Or was it to free us and open the doors?
People say this is the best we've got. No. No it's not. We've got a world- a giant canvas from which to learn about our Creator. We've got billions of people on this canvas made in the very image of God to learn from. Not to mention that His Spirit is living and working in us.
What if church is Creation? What if our house of assembly is our home, our town, our real life community? What if our spiritual family does not actually exclude, but rather include everyone? What if our brothers and sisters were of different faiths and practices? Is this heresy? "Heresy" being derived from the Greek word for "choice".6 Is the bigger question then, "What do you choose?"
"Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than a of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives. Some of us call that power greater than ourselves God. Some do not. Some people celebrate their spirituality in churches, synagogues, mosques, or other houses of worship, while others find divinity in solitude, through meditation or in nature. For example, I come from a long line of folks who believe fishing is church, and one of my closest friends believes that scuba diving is the holiest of experiences. As it turns out, our expressions of spirituality are as diverse as we are." - Brené Brown in Rising Strong
Now obviously a lot of people encounter God in church as we know it. Despite the growing number of people for whom church does not work, there are hundreds of thousands of people for whom church does work. I'm not suggesting that just because church may have not been God's intention doesn't mean that it isn't honored and utilized by Him. What I am suggesting, however, is that we consider taking the label "the way" off of our churches and instead replace them with "a way" of encountering and experiencing God and community.
Because after all none of us are perfect, from Adam all the way to the disciples of Jesus to our families. We get it wrong from time to time. It's ok to wonder if perhaps we got this idea of church wrong too. It's ok if it works for you and it's okay if it doesn't. It's okay if you choose to make the world your temple and I think it's okay if you choose to make church a temple for yourself. What do you choose?
"The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty." - Anne Lamott in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith 7
1. Temple Culture by Shaye I.D. Cohen http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/portrait/temple.html
2. Mark 13; The Bible
3. John 2:19-22; The Bible
4. Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:37-38; Luke 23:44-46; The Bible
5. Romans 1:16; The Bible
6. Synagogues, Shuls, and Temples by Tracey R Rich http://www.jewfaq.org/m/shul.htm
7. Faith, Doubt, and Inspiration by Brené Brown http://brenebrown.com/2011/02/09/201129faith-doubt-and-inspiration-html/