Following Jesus

discipleship • the inner life • prayer
community of goods • faith • repentance

Following Jesus

The Measure of a True Church

May 10, 2019 by

photo of a church roof

Two events last month got me thinking about churches. Or church. Or Church. I love churches, and was genuinely saddened when the news broke that Notre Dame was on fire. I am the sort of person who goes into churches when I walk by them just to experience the atmosphere. But I quickly found myself puzzled by the line-up of atheists speaking about the tragedy it was, and pledging vast amounts of money towards the rebuilding – something like a billion dollars.

Why do people who don’t believe in God care so much about a building? I have walked past Notre Dame once, and judging by the queues of tourists outside, could it be that its status as a tourist attraction is more important than its intended purpose?

Relics visited by tourists provide no threat to the society around them, but churches where people are willing to die for their beliefs could eventually undermine the capitalistic order.

When hundreds of people were blown up in Sri Lanka a couple days later, we saw a more realistic vision of what a church should be. Christians coming together to worship their Creator – something worth dying for. Yes, it was a major news story. But I haven’t yet noticed lines of wealthy people donating millions of dollars in this crisis. Maybe they have. But some world leaders couldn’t even bring themselves to use the word “Christians” when describing the dead, preferring “Easter worshippers” instead.

So why is one church preferred over another? Possibly because relics visited by tourists provide no threat to the society around them, whereas churches where people are willing to die for their beliefs could eventually undermine the capitalistic order. China bulldozes churches with impunity, as do other regimes. Why no protest to that?

Eberhard Arnold summed up the first church in Jerusalem in this way in 1933:

We oppose outright the present order of society. We represent a different order, that of the communal church as it was in Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit was poured out. The multitude of believers became one heart and one soul. On the social level, their oneness was visible in their perfect brotherliness. On the economic level it meant that they gave up all private property and lived in complete community of goods, free from any compulsion. And so we are called to represent the same in the world today, which quite naturally will bring us into conflicts. We cannot put this burden on anybody unless he or she prizes the greatness of God’s kingdom above everything else and feels inwardly certain that there is no other way to go.

As we seek a deeper relationship to Jesus, and form churches that reflect the depth of our discipleship, we will face increased persecution. And with it, the satisfaction of following someone worth dying for.

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