Tuesday Re-mix –
“Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites,
for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign LORD. Amos 4:4-5
In the category of “there’s nothing new under the sun”, many of the problems we see today in the church have been with God’s people a long, long time. Near the top of that list of problems is that people with hardened hearts which are cold toward God are still showing up at all the traditional times and in all the conventional ways for “church”. It has been this way for a long, long time…God’s people are often pretty different on the inside than they are on the outside. We are capable of going through the motions of spiritual things even while our hearts are not turned toward God. Furthermore, even knowing this about ourselves, we continue to foster a form of “church” which quite intentionally avoids any system or structure that might actually fix this problem. Sadly, we do not really want the kind of genuine community to which scripture calls us, because that would mean accountability and intimacy and giving over some level of control in our lives to the community at large…or, worse, to God.
What I am saying is this: if hypocrisy and lack of integrity are our problems, then genuine Spirit-filled Christian community is the solution. But it is a solution we are not altogether sure we want…and we have structured most of our gathered church experiences so as to downplay the importance of that very type of community.
Don’t we tend to wrap our “church” experience all up in the hour or so of gathered worship each week? Oh, we may hit a committee meeting or two, or even a Sunday School class or choir rehearsal, but that hour or so of gathered worship is the centerpiece of our “church” time. You know why that is? Because we can come for “worship” and listen and sing and be faceless and anonymous, with no accountability and no intimacy at all. Maybe I connect with God. Maybe I do not. Nobody knows but me. It is what “church” is dangerously close to becoming for our culture. And even though we know we should have intimate relationships with genuine accountability, we often choose not to do so. And even though we choose not to do so, most of our church structures allow us to continue to “move up” into leadership as long as we show up and look right.
It is what church has become to so many of God’s people because it is what we want church to be. We–all of us–have fostered this form of church by our preferences. This is not just about the sins of a few bad people. This is about the church we have all chosen. The comfortable church. The one that makes us feel good about ourselves without ever having to become transparent and without ever having to change anything about ourselves. This is the church we have all made. This is not about individual sin; rather, this is about the collective sin of us all as a community.
Amos’ words were not aimed at a handful of individuals in Israel. They were aimed at a nation. And they are aimed at us all, as the community of God’s people.
But there is good news.
We can still repair this damage.
We can still turn this ship around. We can still insist on genuine community. We can still decide that, without one another’s help, we will never become the people God has called us to be. We can do the hard things associated with transparency and accountability and intimacy.
We just have to decide what we want “church” to be.