Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Community of Faith Is Family

How wonderful, how beautiful
When brothers and sisters get along!
Psalm 133:1 (Msg.)

I have a friend from seminary -- an extraordinary musician, composer, arranger, producer -- who decided a couple of years ago to disassociate himself from "the institutional church." My friend grew up just as deeply immersed in church life as I did ... perhaps even more so because his dad was a minister of music whose career path led him to work in the Church Music division of the Sunday School Board in Nashville (now under the broader, more marketable name of Lifeway). He also served in church staff ministry positions, and has many published keyboard arrangements (many of them also with Lifeway). He wrote an extensive blog about his top 10 reasons for saying goodbye to "the institutional church," and though I have not studied it in depth, I have skimmed it deeply enough to know that his decision involved an extended period of prayerful study. While I understand most everything he wrote in the blog I would have trouble arriving at the same conclusion on the "what does this require me to do" front. I tend more toward the Augustinian quote about the church that I have heard Steve Brown repeat often on his "Steve Brown, etc." podcast. And, no, I'm not going to repeat the quote, but the gist of it is that for all her imperfections, I love the church ... even with her "institutional" distractions ... because she led me to faith in Christ.
I couldn't help thinking about my friend and his decision as I read the following from Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction yesterday morning:

We can no more be a Christian and have nothing to do with the church than we can be a person and not be in a family. …

There are Christians, of course, who never put their names on a membership list; there are Christians who refuse to respond to the call to worship each Sunday; there are Christians who say, “I love God but I hate the church.” But they are members all the same … (p. 175)

But of course, the fact that we are a family of faith does not mean that we are one big happy family. The people we encounter as brothers and sisters in faith are not always nice people. They do not stop being sinners the moment they begin believing in Christ. They don’t suddenly metamorphose into brilliant conversationalists, exciting companions and glowing inspirations. Some of them are cranky, some of them are dull and others (if the truth must be spoken) a drag. But at the same time our Lord tells us that they are brothers and sisters in faith. If God is my Father, then this is my family.

So the question is not “Am I going to be a part of a community of faith?” but “How am I going to live in this community of faith?” God’s children do different things. Some run away from it and pretend that the family doesn’t exist. Some move out and get an apartment on their own from which they return to make occasional visits, nearly always showing up for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard. And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is served at the meals, quarreling about the way the housekeeping is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them. And some determine to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function in it harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances. (pp. 175-6) …

Living together in a way that evokes the glad song of Psalm 133 is one of the great and arduous tasks before Christ’s people. Nothing requires more attention and energy. It is easier to do almost anything else. (p. 179)

That’s enough to think about for now. The peace of Christ to you.
Blogger's note: Most of my blog audience (and I appreciate all 7 of you, even though you rarely comment) knows that my almost weekly blogs consist mainly of an upload of what I hand out to my people at my Wednesday night rehearsals. For those who encounter this post on facebook, the original posts are at I can't remember how I got that automatic link set up, but it works ... and more people probably read it from facebook anyway.
My Wednesday evening hand-out did not include the introductory paragraph about my friend's decision, but I did talk about it in the portion of my rehearsals where I try to teach on the spiritual implications of what we do. As I did so, I included some things that you need to know him ... specifically that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loves Jesus, that his spiritual walk is one of active discipleship, and that he seeks to find and cultivate Christian community in non-"institutional church" ways. I deliberately omitted his name so that he may be as anonymous as he desires to be, but it would not surprise me to see a response from him on this point. It will be interesting to see what kind of dialogue (if any) this post may elicit. I've said enough (for now). Now you talk.



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