Tue August 29, 2023

By Shelly B Short

The Crucified Church

The Crucified Church

I first imagined the words in this article years ago. I believe the words are more relevant today than they’ve ever been. 

When I think about the modern church two different images pop into my head. One image has a steeple, finely dressed people, organized leadership, and a checklist of ministries. I am sitting in the middle of this image and have been for the majority of my life. I love this image! It is home for me. I feel comfortable with this image. But the truth is many people are not comfortable with this image. For many people this image represents judgment, vengeful people, and not much love lost. This breaks my heart. 

SMLThe second image in my head looks much less organized and much more dirty. It involves some type of shade (a tree, a shed, a closet). That shade may be to protect the gatherers from heat. It may be to protect them from sight. This image is not defined by structural finery, but by the hearts and stories of those gathered. Many in this image have dirty feet from having walked miles to meet here. Many bear scars for no more reason than meeting here, yet they continue to meet. 

The first group makes commitments easily and forgets them quickly. The second group says "Yes" slowly because they know their "Yes’s" will change their lives. The first group sings songs because they've heard them on the radio or in person for a large part of their lives. The second group sings songs because worship is one of their primary means of survival. The first group offers obligatory prayers, almost as filler in the service to allow for offering takers to gather at the front or for the band to disembark from the stage. The second group lingers in prayer. They kneel until their legs to go sleep and their hearts want to leap from their chests. They pray out of privilege, not obligation. As much as I love the first image, it seems they are defined not by their disciple making abilities, but by the obligations they put on the disciple maker. One does not have to look far or listen much to learn that the second group is marked by seekers present only because the members of the Body have shared story after Gospel story with them until they cannot endure the pressure to come any longer. They must be there to investigate the truth of these disciples’ claims! 

Is it possible for the first image to become more like the second image? Is it really possible? Is it possible for the first group to actually possess something the second group lacks? 

I've listened to and taken part in the conversation to bring about change in the Western church for years. Most times the conversation is formed like the discussion above. We mark the clear distinctions between the two bodies gathering around the world (or the first image and the original image found in the book of Acts) and spend the rest of our time lamenting the lack of sincerity in the first. I do not find this conversation very helpful. Could we get off at another point? What if instead of choosing to lament, we choose to act?

What if there aren't two churches in existence, but just one? What if our framing is flawed? What if we have become so bogged down in our comparisons and analyses that we have forgotten Jesus only married once? 

The truth is we are all a part of this Bride, this Body, flawed and holy alike. We cannot escape each other. I suggest we spend our time listening to each other, rather than accusing each other. 

For the purpose of this article I am proposing three areas of life that need our attention. You take them and do what you want with them. I suggest we take our history together and learn from each other. Let's sit with each other and seek the Lord. 

#1. Prayer. If these two groups are to become more one and less two we must embrace a prayer that changes us. We must risk it all in the work of prayer! Are you willing to pray as if your life depended on it? You realize the life of your church may just depend on it? The survival of your family may just depend on it? I love the description of a praying church that resembles a lively ER: constantly moving, constantly learning, ever waiting on the surgeon, longing for health and restoration. If we cannot wait on the Lord together, we cannot become the church He intends for us to be. 

#2. Scripture. It seems to me part of the division we see between our churches is our interpretation of Scripture. I understand different traditions and the backgrounds we bring to the Word. I get that different cultures interpret passages differently. But, shouldn't our differences make us stronger? If our differences really run that deep, they should drive us to appreciate each other more, not push back from the table faster. I suggest the divisions we see among our churches are present more because of uninvestigated truths, than deeply held convictions. If we cannot hold truth highly enough to agree on its ability to unite us, we will continue to see a fragmented bride. 

#3. Disciple making. I have conversations all the time with people who see making disciples as an arm of the church that a few people can get involved in like a soup kitchen or a shoe drive. Folks, making disciples is not an option for the Christ follower! We can unite to eat together or play horseshoes together, but if we cannot unite to bring people to Christ we might as well stay separated. No, Jesus offered us one mode of operation, only one: to make disciples of all nations. This is our rally cry! It sits on the top shelf for us! Can we embrace this mandate or will we continue to spend our time bickering about the music being too loud?

I'm picking these three areas of life for a reason. It seems Jesus singles these out of all the rest. Certainly we can find hundreds of talking points to rally around and I'm ready to rally around any of those. But it seems these three kind of rest at the heart of who we are. Will you speak? What do you think? Let's get the dialogue started!