Many people today recognize that the church is dying, and so they do everything they can to pump new life back into it. “We need nicer buildings,” they say. “Better trained pastors. Exciting children’s programs. Lively music. More money.” But no matter which measurement you use, none of it seems to be working.
Robert Farrar Capon said it best when he wrote this:
The church can’t rise because it refuses to drop dead. The fact that it’s dying is of no use whatsoever: dying is simply the world’s most uncomfortable way of remaining alive. If you are to be raised from the dead, the only thing that can make you a candidate is to go all the way into death. Death, not life, is God’s recipe for fixing up the world.
Many Christians, of course, look forward to dying. We love to quote what Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Yes, many Christians say they are ready to die, for that means they get to enter heaven and spend eternity with God and all their loved ones, free from pain, sin, suffering, and temptation.
When my youngest daughter was four, we were sitting at the dinner table one night when she said, “Daddy, I hope I die soon so I can go to heaven to be with Jesus.” Those are shocking words to hear from a four year old, but they reflect the theology of most Christians, and probably what we had inadvertently taught her ourselves. I tried to explain to her that being with Jesus is not about dying, but about living. It is not about the future by-and-by, but the present here and now. “I hope you live a very long time,” I told her, “so that you can show the love of Jesus to those who do not know that He loves them.”
I think she understood, but it sometimes seems that few Christians understand this most basic concept about following Jesus.
Jesus did not redeem and rescue us from sin and death just so that we could sit in beautiful buildings, sing beautiful songs, and listen to insightful sermons while we wait for the rapture. Church is not a pastime that helps us get through life while we wait for heaven.
Church is God’s plan to take the words and works of Jesus Christ to all people.
Church is God’s method of incarnating Jesus in every nook and cranny of this world.