I got a joke in my inbox today from LightGirl … this is pretty funny.
A friend was in front of me coming out of church one day, and the preacher was standing at the door as he always is to shake hands. He grabbed my friend by the hand and pulled him aside.
Pastor said, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!”
My friend said, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.”
Pastor questioned, “How come I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?”
My friend *whispered* back, “I’m in the secret service.”
I laughed out loud when I read this. I can see the scene perfectly in my mind’s eye. Pastor, proud of his church and wanting lots of people to come and receive the benefits of being in relationship with God, and a community of faith. He sees a great opportunity for this man who visits but twice a year and wants good things for him. The man, on the other hand, feels pressure, to behave in certain ways, befriend certain people, belong to a certain club. Two perspectives … same end.
What if God did have a secret service though? How would a run of the mill pastor respond to that? Would we regular humans be able to put enough of our ego aside to allow for people coming and going in our midst, with no apparent loyalty to one church or another? Can a person belong to more than one church? Can a man obey more than one master? Oh … hey … what’s that question doing in there?
I’ve been thinking about the concept of church and community lately. It started with with this quote from Deitrich Bonhoeffer that Hamo posted about a week ago about vision:
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man [or woman] who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.â€ (Life Together)
In turn Hamo found it here.
For the last, I don’t know, 10 years? 15 years? there has been a real focus in western Christianity on “community.” Having community. Live in community. Let’s fellowship. I hate that sentence. First of all “fellowship” is not a verb, it’s a noun. It’s not something you do, it’s something you have, something you gain out of entirely different actions that require a sense of responsibility on your part.
That said, there’s been a focus on community within the western Church. This has probably been a reaction to the increased sense of isolation that people feel living in the suburbs. It has also been in response to the clear calls throughout the Bible that God gives to his people to live together and live in community with Him. I think it’s a good thing. I think that being with people, and living amongst them allows us to see ourselves in a myriad of different ways. We can only see ourselves in clear view when we rub up against different folks.
Can the ideal or vision of community become an idol? Might that be what Bonhoeffer is talking about above? I think it can. I think there are many communities of faith where the community has become an idol and the sanctity and health of that entity must be preserved at the cost of any individuals therein. It’s difficult in this day and age to speak of idols. We think of bronze calves and graven images. Statues, with aboriginal dances going on around them … drums and tribal music. That’s idol worship, right? Not something we sophisticates need to worry about, need we?
Oh, but we must. We have our graven images … our Excel documents and Powerpoint slides. Whole congregations dance to the tunes of financial reports, the beats drummed out low and slow. We must have our building funds, our new programs, new sound board and equipment for the worship band. Those are the obvious idols of the modern, institutional church. What about simpler forms of church or community … are they at risk?
I think Bonhoeffer might say, yes. I think any time an institution or entity or vision is put first before God’s will we have created an idol. I think that an idol might be created in a community of 6 people meeting in a home church … if that home church is based upon one person’s vision at the expense of others and not God’s vision as expressed by all, then it has the potential to become an idol.
So … I’ve been thinking about how do we, simple humans, protect ourselves from ourselves. How do we stop ourselves from begging Aaron to cast a bronze calf for us? That’s the real problem isn’t it? It’s not that the priesthood (senior pastors, leaders, etc.) is calling us to worship these idols … although they sometimes are. It’s that we also ask for them. We beg our leaders for visions. Following the fire just isn’t satisfying enough.
Could it be that we need to change the dance? This isn’t, afterall, a waltz. We’re involved in rhumba. We’ve become too disengaged from one another … leaders and followers. Perhaps we need to be more intimate again. Perhaps we ought to stop making tiny idols of our leaders and allow them to have lives like ours.
What do you think … are we making idols of church and our leaders? How can we stop this silly business?