Thursday, July 31, 2014
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the kind of chemical or perfume smell that many can’t tolerate well. I am speaking of the “fragrance of Christ” Paul detected in his church in Corinth:
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” - 2 Corinthians 2:14-15
Every church has a fragrance, a blessed aroma that is their special version of God’s grace. I have spent the last six weeks sniffing it out at the church I am not privileged to serve. I have paused many times to take a full breath, and I am delighted to say that “it smells really good here!” This places smells of the grace and acceptance my family has experienced during the first six weeks of our journey together.
I am the new kid on the block, but I have already taken a whiff of the essential character, the aroma of love here that is pleasing to the nostrils of God. I have smelled it in the kind expressions of welcome, the willingness to participate in conversations, and in the informal visiting with the people of this place. No church is perfect, but this church does indeed have a wonderful fragrance about it.
My wife and I are grateful for everyone who participated in our "Dream Gatherings" to get to know the people here, and their hopes and desires. I had my “nose to the air” for the fragrance here as we heard stories of how they found grace in this church. Some responded to the point of tears. Ahh, the sweet smell in the air.
Some old friends of ours came to visit our church a few weeks ago for the first time. She wrote me about “what she smelled” here, and with her permission, I share it with you:
"I loved the worship service … such a blessing. I was blown away with the friendliness of the folks in the congregation. I don’t recall one single person not saying hello to us and with a sincere smile on their face. I think that congregation is the friendliest one with perhaps the exception being the congregation at [she named another church she had visited]. Another thing I observed is that the folks at Arab First seemed to truly enjoy being there to worship. I love that small town flavor and hospitality … so very appealing."
Monday, July 7, 2014
Both are gifts of God, but one serves the other. The institutional church serves to uphold the mystical church, to ensure its propagation and to invite and welcome people to encounter its mystery. But it is the nest where the real eggs are hatched.
Many of the frustrations and hurts of Christians are rooted in getting tied up in the institutional church, which is all about programs, property, and personalities. The institutional church is not bad, not at all. It's just imperfect to be human, and the church is not immune to being human. In fact, we should be the first to stand up and say we are all broken, for our entire purpose is to point to the One who brings healing and wholeness and transforms our hurts with grace. When the institutional church sins, it sins boldly and trusts God to redeem us, rather than pretending that what we are doing is perfectly in the will of God.
A healthy and vibrant institutional church knows deep in its bones that there is a deeper movement underneath the surface. It's not a matter of recovering the mystical church, it's already there. It's a matter of uncovering, not recovering. The Spirit is at work and we are the body of Christ, bound together with a love that is beyond our human ability to love.
The mystical church is the fine wheat in the midst of tare. But where would we be if both churches did not co-exist, graced by God to grow?
The institutional church seeks converts, members, and volunteers. The mystical church seeks Jesus. The first serves to make the second possible, adn we give God the glory.