“Let us astound them by our way of life. For this is the main battle, the unanswerable argument, the argument from actions. For though we give ten thousand precepts of philosophy in words, if we do not exhibit a better life than theirs, the gain is nothing. For it is not what is said that draws their attention, but their inquiry is always what we do. Let us win them therefore by our life.”
~John Chrysostom, Homily on 1 Corinthians, 4th century AD
Why do we still mostly understand Church not as an every day, every hour Kingdom of Priests to the world, but in terms of what we do together inside our church buildings on Sunday mornings? We judge the faithfulness or worth of a congregation in terms of its structures. What’s the organization of the church? What’s the name of the church? How do they worship? The structures are almost always our starting point. So when we attempt to reform or revive or rejuvenate a church, what we normally do is go to the Bible to try to get the structures right.
I don’t know if getting the structures right is what God has in mind for his treasured possession. Is that God’s mission in the world?
I mean, what happens when all the structures are perfectly right but there’s no serious engagement with one another or with the world? If doing worship correctly or organizing the leadership chain properly takes the place of living justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, are we honoring our Father who calls us his priests to the world?
When the church becomes more a set of structures and less a way of life in the world, our focus can become obsessively inward. We think of church life as an end in itself rather than something to be lived and given for the sake of others. We like our church, we’re comfortable in our church, we don’t want anybody to mess up our church or change it in any way. We can be very easily distracted by our own church life.
“Now a church came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’
‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
‘Which ones?’ the man inquired.
Jesus replied, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’
‘All these I have kept,’ the church said. ‘What do I still lack?’
Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be complete, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor. Then come, follow me.’
When the church heard this, it went away sad, because it had great wealth.”
Is it possible for a church to do all the right things and still lack the one thing it needs? Is it possible for the church to be so consumed with its own life that it fails to care for the world around it? Is it possible for a church to retreat so deeply into its own righteousness that it can’t hear the cries of a lost world?
The call to follow our King requires a giving up of our own lives. Jesus did not die for his Church so we could preserve our lives and cater to our own needs. Never! God forbid! In the name and manner of Jesus we are to spend our lives for the sake of the world. The Church, just exactly like its Lord, is being sent into the world not to be served, but to serve and to give its life for the sake of others.