“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 …
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:13-16
Passages like this one from Pastor James make us squirm. We see them in scripture and we gloss over them, because they make us uncomfortable. We honestly do not know what to do with them, because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, they bear almost no resemblance at all to the church with whom we are familiar.
The notion of being so involved in one another’s lives, so intertwined together, that we know each other’s struggles and are fully mobilized to help and to pray…the notion that we would be so interdependent on each other that we would share our deepest fears and our hardest temptations, i.e., that we would actually confess our sins to each other…the notion that we would live our lives fully open and exposed to our Christian community, knowing that it is safe and that they will love and support us even with all our flaws…these notions are all foreign to our culture of self-sufficiency and anonymity.
We have reared at least two adult generations of Christians who consider social interdependence a weakness in an individual. Saying, “I am hurting and am needing help” is reserved only for the …