It’s three years and one day since I decided to become a Christian. I find it hard to comprehend that so much could have happened in such a short space of time, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Over the last few years, I have often talked to friends and family that don’t share my beliefs. They rarely understand why I’m so passionate about the church and what it stands for…or simply don’t understand the relevance of the church in today’s society. What frustrates me actually isn’t that a number of the people I talk to don’t believe what I believe – I know that God already has a plan for them that really doesn’t depend on my involvement. Rather, what frustrates me is the antiquated view of the church that is so prevalent in society today.
The general perception of church
If I was to conduct a survey amongst non-church goers examining their view of church as a whole, what would they say? Based on my previously atheist views from a little over four years ago, I would have said the following:
Old fashioned building; steeple, pews and bell a must. Collar essential. Stained glass windows, candles, and organ. Hymns that musically are a million miles from anything I, or the majority of the secular world would generally listen to today. Nothing that is relevant to me.
I could go on a lot longer. To be perfectly honest, these views aren’t unjustified. Many churches today are like this. But this isn’t the church as I have personally experienced it. This isn’t the church as many millions of people know it throughout the world. The rising church today is an entirely different place.
This is church
A place where the word ‘religion’ is redundant; the word ‘relationship’ is far more apt. A place where people don’t talk at God; they meet with God. Where God speaks to us, through us and into the darkest facets of our lives. This is church.
A place where community isn’t something that only existed in the 1950s and hasn’t evaporated with the ASBO culture. A place where people care about you above what you can offer them. A place where your development and personal growth are valued as much as your status and financial situation. A place where people from all around the area meet through a common love; Jesus. A place where people do things out of the goodness of their heart…nothing more, nothing less. This is church.
A place where the songs that are sung are more similar in style to what you would hear in the charts today than the hymns of yester-year, but with complete focus on Biblical content. A place where electric guitars and drums are common-place…the kind of songs that you can comfortably listen to on your iPod. A place where people sing with passion about a living Saviour – not (if you were anything like me as a child) a place where you sheepishly mime the words and hope no one notices that you aren’t really singing. This is church.
Bubbling beneath the concrete of the media stereotypes surrounding our faith is a different kind of church. A dynamic place that along with the word ‘religion’ disregards the word ‘tradition’ and instead focuses on building a church centred purely on solid Biblical teaching. The church wasn’t designed to be known for its graveyards and steeples; it was designed to be about a loving God and His people. It was intended to be God’s hands and feet on the earth…a beautiful exchange between the Creator and the created.
At this point, I do need to stress a few things. Steeples, bells, pews, stained glass windows and organs are not bad things themselves. There are plenty of churches in the world filled with these things and steeped in tradition where God is doing incredible things. What I am saying, however, is that I do have a concerns for the many people that wouldn’t call themselves Christians who see the emphasis of our faith more about the traditions we have instituted than the God that created us, sacrificed himself for us and laid a path to eternity for us. I also need to stress that if you aren’t a Christian and are reading this, I’m not for a moment suggesting that you aren’t capable of being a good person – there are many, many millions of fantastic atheists in the world. With that said, I do feel that the world in general is becoming more and more interested in financial wealth than good morals. Finally, I need to highlight that the church I described isn’t perfect. I heard a great quote once that Christianity would be perfect if it wasn’t for the people. We are all deeply flawed human beings and are extremely prone to making mistakes – either in our treatment of others, in the example we set or in the temptations we give in to. I’d like to highlight that although there are many huge positives to the church I know, I am not for a second saying that we have it all together. We don’t. I am a perfect example of someone who is nothing like the person I would like to be! All we can do is try to get to that point as quickly as possible!
I’ve been pondering this all day at church and it highlighted some things for me. It’s not the message of Jesus Christ that is changing. Instead, it’s the communication of the message that is changing. It reminded me of telegrams and iPads. There was a time where telegrams were the new and exciting way to communicate a message; much like the traditional church that I mentioned earlier, there was a time where it communicated God’s message in such a way that people could do nothing else but pay attention to its presentation. It was both culturally relevant and significant. However, in a modern world of iPads and smart phones, a telegram wouldn’t have quite the same communicational impact on a younger generation. Take the exact same message and present it to a child on an iPad with some shiny animation and the impact would be entirely different. The challenge isn’t in the content of the message, but in helping people to engage with it. The message itself is timeless:
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. (John 3:16)
Let me emphasise that the message needs to be timeless. After all, that is the ultimate focus of our faith. The minute we falter on the teachings of the Bible is the minute we begin to trust in ourselves over God, which can only end badly. Let me also emphasise that if the God chooses to move powerfully amongst His people the style, delivery and presentation of the Word of God is entirely irrelevant!
In the three years since I became a Christian, I have had the immense privilege of experiencing church all over the UK as well as Albania, Lithuania, Poland, France and America. I have seen the vibrancy of the emerging church; from congregations of 10 people to 20,000 people, God is at work in His kingdom. In our church, we have seen God do incredible things amongst us. Lives transformed, the broken put back together, the hungry fed, hope restored to the hopeless, peace embracing the restless. And that is just the beginning. I believe that cracks in the media concrete are starting to form. In time, I believe that the stereotypes will be entirely dissolved and the world will see the church for what I absolutely believe it is: The hope of the world.