Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Philip Yancey is an American Christian writer who has written some best-sellers. One of his books is called Church: Why Bother? He talks very openly about his growing up in a conservative church where he was made to attend church—it’s well worth reading.
He starts off by this quote about the church (from Wheat That Springeth Green, by J.F. Powers):
This is a big old ship, Bill. She creaks, she rocks, she rolls, and at times she makes you want to throw up. But she gets where she’s going. Always has, always will, until the end of time. With or without you.
What an interesting view of the church. Yancey had every reason to abandon the church but he hasn’t, unlike millions of people today worldwide who no longer attend Sunday church. In his book he says, ”I have never given up on church. At a deep level I sense that church contains something I desperately need.” And I believe he is right. When you attend church something very powerful can happen.
Not like the minister in a small town who stopped one Sunday at a café to eat something and had his Bible and sermon notes to read through. A man sitting in the corner yelled out, “Are you a preacher or something? “Yes,” he said, “I preach at the Christian Church here in town.” The man got excited and said, “Hey, I’m a member of that church.” The church was small and the preacher knew all the regulars, so the minister said, “I’ve been preaching there for about three months and I’ve never seen you there.” The other man looked a bit puzzled and said to the minister, “I said I was a member of that church. I never said that I was fanatical about it!”
Talking about spirituality
That about sums up how many feel today. They say church has its place but don’t go overboard about it. I heard of another minister who was told, “I am a deeply spiritual person, but I don’t believe in organised religion”.
This view is also shared by many people. Organised religion has not got a very good reputation these days. But spirituality is in—many people are quite happy to talk about spiritual or mystical subjects. Now more than ever. Thirty years ago, 40 years ago, people could argue that God didn’t exist, or that God was dead.
Not anymore. Rarely do we hear those discussions. No, today it has become very fashionable to talk about spirituality. The church may be seen as old-fashioned or boring—like the poster that showed Jesus sitting in the front row of the church asleep—but it still is God’s plan. Let me quote Philip Yancey again:
Yes, the church fails in its mission and makes serious blunders precisely because the church comprises human beings who will always fall short of the glory of God. That is the risk God took. Anyone who enters the church expecting perfection does not understand the nature of that risk or the nature of humanity. Just as every romantic eventually learns that marriage is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work, every Christian must learn that church is also only a beginning.
The Christian message of grace
The one thing the church should do is offer grace—that wonderful God quality that lifts people up to a new life full of hope and joy; something that can change their lives forever. In his other popular book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey tells a true story that continues to haunt him to this day. He heard it from a friend who works with the down-and-out in Chicago.
It seems a prostitute had come to his friend in a difficult situation—homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through her sobs and tears, she told him that she had been renting out her daughter to men interested in sex. She said she had to do it to support her drug habit.
He could hardly bear hearing the sordid details of her story, and he sat in silence not knowing what to say. At last he asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. He will never forget the look of pure, naïve shock that crossed her face, and she said, “Church! Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse than I already do!”
Why don’t people who need Jesus the most like being around us? Why do we make them feel so uncomfortable, so out of place? In what ways is God calling us in the church to be a more grace-full community when the wounded are in our midst? If only we could share the truth of Jesus to more people in the words of John 1:14 (CEV):
The Word became a human being and lived here among us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us.
That’s the message of the church that people need to hear.