Heard the one about there being no perfect church? It goes like this: ‘Well, there’s no perfect church because churches are made up of imperfect people’, or words to that effect. It’s one of those often repeated Christianese statements that have no basis in scripture but are frequently thrown around as if they do.
I don’t buy it.
I believe there is a perfect church. Here’s why.
This week I was preparing an article for another blogsite about a woman born 100 years before me, who died twenty years before I was born. She was a dedicated Christ follower who sacrificed a brilliant career, fame and wealth to pour out her life in His service in an unfamiliar, hostile land. And we connected. As I researched her life, which was very unlike my own, I sensed a depth of bond with her that I’ve seldom known with any other believer. Our connection was in the Holy Spirit.
How is it that Christ followers can be united across boundaries of time, geography and culture in this way? How is it my spirit leaps when I recognize the same Christ in another as dwells in me, even if we have never met, even if we have never heard each other’s voices or physically sat together to worship or talk over coffee? How is it I often feel more closely bonded to someone half a world away who has shared their hopes, fears, and faith with me through emails and blog posts, than with people I share the same history, culture and cafes with?
It’s because there is just one church (Ephesians 4:4).
It’s because this one church, this Body of Christ, is a spiritual entity. Its members have been baptized together into Christ by the Spirit of God, to whom boundaries of distance, time, language and culture are irrelevant (1 Cor. 12:13)
It’s because this same Spirit refuses to be confined within the multi-denominational structures, doctrinal boxes and brick and mortar walls that are popularly called ‘the church’ on this earth.
Somewhere a church exists in the Spirit whose members are united and bound together by the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:3). Somewhere a church exists in the Spirit that looks, loves and sounds just like Jesus Christ whose members are being continually conformed to His image by the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3:18). Somewhere a church exists in the Spirit that is perfect because its members are perfected and sanctified by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Cor. 6:11; Heb. 10:14).
And when we as disciples of any colour, gender or culture connect with another by the uniting power of the Holy Spirit, we have found that Somewhere Church. Our membership in it is guaranteed not by signing a card or regular attendance but by our faith in Christ.
But I keep hitting up against a problem. The latest example of this problem occurred recently when a local pastor implied we (husband and I) should be attending his church. Bear in mind he has not met either of us, we have not been to his church and have no indication from God that we should do so. We had simply contacted him by phone in connection with a practical matter to assist a close relative who does go to that church.
The problem? The problem is an almost blind assumption that those of us who choose to opt out of traditional organized Christianity are somehow spiritually less than those who do. The problem is others automatically presuming they know better than I how, where, and when I should worship. And the problem is friendship offered not on the basis of faith in Christ, but on condition of conformity to another person’s specific Christian tribe.
Seriously, if someone truly believes that Christ cannot sustain me outside the walls of their own church setting, then even when that church is the biggest in town, their church is too small and their God is too inadequate.
I know, it’s easy to label Christians ‘backslidden’ when they are less than enthusiastic about church involvement, or dismiss them as those pesky ‘perfect church’ seekers: easier, that is, than deal with the uncomfortable fact that there may actually be something missing in our local church that people are desperately seeking. I can’t blame anyone who chooses to think that way: we’ve all known people who are serial complainers, who are always more focused on the problem than the solution. We’ve all breathed a secret sigh of relief when they move on in search of whatever it is that will satisfy them.
But the largest percentage of non-church-attending Christians are sincere Christ followers who are non-attenders because the hierarchical, controlling atmosphere of many local churches has become toxic to them. And for many, institutional Christianity has become irrelevant. They are searching for, and often finding, other ways to assemble together, deeper more authentic ways of connecting to fellow believers and more diverse expressions of corporate fellowship than traditional settings offer. They are following a living Christ they have not been able to find within the hyped or stifled environments of their local church experiences.
If my words offend you, that is certainly not my intention. I bless my Christian brothers and sisters who acknowledge there are serious problems in organized Christianity and have nevertheless chosen to serve Christ from inside the institution. I would never question your ability to hear for yourself where and how, or in what setting, you should express your Christian beliefs. But I would ask that the same level of respect be given to those of us who worship Christ outside the walls of the local church by choice because that’s where we believe He has led us.
For the record let me clear up a few general assumptions often made about we ‘outside’ Christians:
*We are not all wounded, angry and bitter. Each of us as individual believers, whether attending a local church or otherwise, is on a journey into wholeness in Jesus Christ. It’s true many do cease regular church attendance because they have been deeply wounded or spiritually abused, but many find their healing through following Christ outside the institution rather than inside it. Wounded, angry, bitter people are just as often present within the walls of local churches as outside them.
*We are not spiritually dysfunctional or less of a Christ follower because we no longer find the atmosphere of a local church relevant to our Christian walk and growth. You don’t have to be an active member of a local church for Christ to meet you, heal you and lead you. If this is something that is incomprehensible to some readers may I gently suggest you leave aside what you do not understand rather than judge it as aberrant. God does not need to fit into our understanding of Him or give account to us for how He works with His own.
*We have not ‘left’ the church. It is no more possible for us to leave the church than it is to shed our natural skin. If we are in Christ we are church. Period.
*Finally, we are not your mission field. It is not your God-given calling to get us back into your church just so you can feel better about us. The mission field is anyone outside Christ – let’s all focus our evangelism there.
I share as one who spent over forty years in organized Christianity before God called me to follow Jesus outside the local church system. It came as a surprise and has certainly not been an easy path, but I have no regrets. Bread for the Bride is primarily a ministry to my fellow ‘wilderness dwellers’ – those who for whatever reason have not found Christ in His fullness within the walls of organized Christianity, or who have not found the local church scene to be the safe, nurturing environment it should be. I could hardly minister to this ‘congregation in the wilderness’ in the small way that I do without walking alongside them.
Whether someone is actively engaged in a local church, or has been called to another expression of the Christ Life that is in them, should really not be an issue. If we are in Christ we are the Church. Our connection to one another as Christ’s Body is in the Spirit, not within temporary structures, shared traditions or specific sets of doctrines.
I read something this week by a great teacher from a former time, T. Austin Sparks, that articulates the true nature of the church far better than I can:
‘You can only really see what the Spirit presents when you occupy a heavenly position. To see the Lord and His Church, as we have it in Ephesians, you must be in the position that is there: “He hath raised us up together with Him and made us to sit in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus.” It was from that position that Paul gave us the revelation of Christ and His Body.’
I am beginning to see the Church as Jesus sees her, from a heavenly perspective. I am beginning to perceive that great crowd of witnesses from every age since Adam whose individual testimonies of the living Christ are the organic cells that make up the Body of Christ. And I am beginning to understand why buildings, creeds, traditions, doctrines and organisation can never equal or contain this spiritual ecclesia whose members can only ever be knitted and held together by the Spirit of God.
If you are one who chooses to worship Christ from within a local church congregation, be blessed, and welcome to the Church. If you are a fringe dweller, seeking to follow Christ but unsure where you fit in, be blessed, and welcome to the Church. If you are following Christ outside the traditional venues, again, be blessed, and welcome to the Church.
I’ll meet you in Church….Somewhere.
*The Persistent Purpose of God, Chapter 8 “The Glory and The Spirit”, T. Austin-Sparks
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.
29 thoughts on “Somewhere A Church”
I absolutely loved this article. I dithered as to whether to simply Reblog your post or have a go at writing something similar myself. I decided to do the latter, but hope you don’t mind me quoting a couple of your paragraphs, as they were so very well worded. (I have put your name & a link to your article though)
My post is called, “Church – To Be or To Go? That is the Question”, and it deals mostly with the Hebrews 10:24-25 scripture about forsaking the assembly.
Thank you for all the time and effort you have put into this – it is my favourite article on this subject. Very well written and encouraging.
Helen, I’ve visited your website and read the article and it is excellent. Thanks so much for the quote and the link!
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Thank you, Cheryl, for this awesome take on the body of Christ. You explain your views with such tact, I can’t imagine anybody taking offense (though some are bound to. “Woe to you when all men speak well of you,” as Jesus said). I agree with you wholeheartedly that the church is not confined inside a building. Though I currently attend a traditional church, I don’t look to it as my main source of spiritual nourishment. Outside the church, I find, is where I can be most creative and spontaneous. Going on mission trips are the main way I connect with my local church at this time. It has proven to be an excellent outlet with which to share my faith and at the same time meet believers from different parts of the world. I am always looking for ways to break outside that religious box, because it is, after all, about relationship, not religion.
Don’t worry, Jesus is always looking for ways to break us out of our religious boxes (mindsets) also, and He has a habit of finishing what He starts 🙂
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so powerful and encouraging Cheryl. …i know that only God could lead me to Bread f t Bride…and through many troubled situasions I could just go to the blog and knew there are some called out ones who do know and understand… as though Im also being known by the Spirit even though weve never met…tx you are a beautiful gift to the Body of Chrisy.
Maggie thankyou for your kind words. The path we are walking is a narrow path, and often difficult. Each of us have our gifts to bring to every other Christ follower on this journey to help and encourage one another along the way. Your gifts are needed too. My prayer is that you will be encouraged and uplifted by the Spirit of God today and the love of Christ.
Thanks to Peter for sending me this link.
Great post! This is spot on with what our Pastor has been preaching for the last few years about the Bride of Christ being universal, spiritual, all encompassing, non denominational, beyond “walls” and bureaucracy etc.
While we are a NZ Baptist Church, we are not hierarchical or very formal.
Thank you and wish you well in responding to God’s call.
Thanks Cheryl for not taking another pot shot at the Bride of Christ. However she is expressed locally, she is the love of His life, and Jesus adores her (us) beyond words. You get it when you say you are beginning to see the Church as Jesus sees her – and that is restorative for us. Shalom.
Hi Rusty, Thankyou for your comments. I would not think of taking a pot shot at Christ’s Bride. If you read the posts on this blogsite you will see that is not what Bread for the Bride is about. I will not hesitate, however, to call out the false religious system that calls itself the Bride of Christ and is not, and which actually abuses the Bride of Christ. I agree Jesus loves His Bride beyond words, more than agree, and know this to be true. He is also fiercely protective of her and is calling many away from religious environments that are only harmful to her. And yes, His church expresses herself locally, but the local expression of what is church has many faces. I hope all these things are clear in this post. Many thanks for dropping by and engaging in this important discussion.
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There’s so much good in this post I can’t comment on all of it 🙂 But connecting with believers in the Spirit across time, space, & culture has been my experience as well. I’m reading early Quaker writings now & find so much fellowship in Jesus! John the Baptist ministered outside the Jewish synagogue system. Jesus ministered within that system a lot. When asked about differences between His ministry & John’s, Jesus said, “Wisdom is justifed by her deeds.” If led by the Spirit, His wisdom is evident in our lives however we fellowship 🙂
Thankyou Teague. It’s so good when we find that Holy Spirit connection with others unhindered by natural barriers. It does not depend on where we find fellowship, but on Who we belong to. I love the example you have given of John the Baptist and Jesus response. Thankyou for taking the time to comment.
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Agreed Cheryl! I think it is to some extent a 1st world thing. I guess we’re a ‘2/3 world’ country, and our small experience seems to prove that our black, poorer SA brothers and sisters are hungrier for the real thing (I would think your African and Asian experiences bear that out). We are very slowly finding folk from our middle/upper class join us, but generally they think organic house church is a nice idea, but find their traditional churches just too comfy. There they can remain ‘safe’ and anonymous. But that’s just my take on it…
I think you make a good point there Erroll!
Amen, yes and preach sister!!!!!!!
From your “Wilderness” series to “Somewhere a Church” – all I can say is “thank you” – for your words of revelation and truth and freedom and hope and rest and peace…
Living outside of “church” walls and loving it!
Hi Pamela, thankyou for dropping by. Sometimes it feels very lonely outside those walls but there really are many of us on this wilderness journey with Jesus. Thanks for your encouraging words.
Yes yes yes! Thank you! I’m on a similar trajectory…40 years in the traditional church, now in non-traditional settings, loving God more than I have ever before, and actually hearing from Him now, ha ha! I had one relative say that they are praying for me to find a good fellowship. Smile, nod, thank them for their kindness, and move on.
Love it! Thanks for the comment Joyful Heart.
Well said, Cheryl. I like to say that I belong to “the world’s largest mega-church.” (i.e. the one true Church, the Body of Christ.) Sadly, when that is your only “church”, it can be rather lonely at times. That not ought to be!
Glad that we’ve connected in the Spirit and belong to the same Ekklesia in Him. Many blessings!
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Thankyou David. The world’s largest mega church….I like that 🙂
And when you find such true expressions of church somewhere, it is glorious! (despite the brokenness and the blemishes)
I believe that, in an organic way, we must pursue authentic, concrete expressions of church as far as possible. It is often as the result of incarnating and gossiping the Good News in our neighbourhood or among the forgotten of society. Just saying…
Thanks for you encouraging post, Cheryl!
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Thanks Erroll. I couldn’t agree more. I know from reading your blog posts that you have found an authentic corporate expression of church on this earth. Many of us are still pursuing that scenario and are still to find it, even when we have shared the gospel in the ways you have suggested. For some of us the doors have not been opened into a physical setting with other believers where we can be church together on an equal footing of simple discipleship. And as David says and I concur, it can be lonely. But we don’t stop looking….we all need each other. Bless you for your encouragement to so many of us!
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Go Cheryl! Well said x
Thankyou, positivity always appreciated.