The Stodden Churches

What should church feel like?

The way we assess a lot of things in our lives in terms of their relative importance to us we do so in terms of how they “feel”. Does whatever it is have a “good” or “bad” feel?  

If we go out for a meal the facts of how the food was cooked is important, but also so is the “feel” the experience; the quality of service, the appearance of the dining room, even the presentation on the plate. There is a bit difference between Michelin starred food served on a paper plate with plastic cutlery in a barn and in an air conditioned dining room tastefully decorated with silver service. How the meal experience “feels” is important.

How would we assess the quality of our family life? This is a tougher question than the last one; and even more difficult to tie down just to a list of hard facts. Do we assess in terms of how much time we spend together, and how much apart? Do we measure the quality of our life together by the amount spent on Christmas and birthday presents? The quality of our family life is determined for good or ill on how it “feels”; do we feel a sense of love and support?

Do we feel a sense of “belonging”? Do we feel valued, and do we feel valued even when we fail? All valid questions that seek to assess the quality of our family life, but not necessarily easy to quantify just in terms of hard facts. It comes down to how each of us experiences family life; how it “feels”.

So what should the Church feel like? It goes without saying that in the New Testament the Church, the Ecclesia, are the people rather than the building and very much like a family. Just like a family there is a unifying head; Jesus Christ. Just like a family the people in the church are all related because being in the church is about being a follower of Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, and that means we are “adopted” into the family of the church; which is Jesus’ family.

So the same questions that I raised about how we assess family life are equally as true of how we assess the church; the church should feel like “family”. So do we fell loved and supported? Do we feel a sense of “belonging”? Do we feel valued, even when we fail?

In Matthew today Jesus sketches a picture of how he expects his church to be; and it is all about how it will “feel”. Jesus is not listing facts but rather he is talking about a sense of love and support, a quality of being valued that can even deal with failure. He is giving us a picture of a family, not an idealistic picture, but a working family with ups and downs.

Verses 15-17 deal with how the church as a local gathering of Jesus’ family deal with someone who has failed; who has got it wrong in some way. Maybe they have been selfish, maybe they have taken advantage of another member of the church’s weakness, and maybe they have been greedy and hung on to moneys that were for the Church family. If the Church was just an institution, a business or a political party then that person who had failed in some way would be demoted, or fined or excluded or sacked. But Jesus is showing how the Church family should bend over backwards in love to keep the person who has failed in the family. It begins with a quiet conversation one on one, just like an elder brother might have with a younger sibling. If that does not enable the person who has got living in Jesus’ family wrong back on the right track; then have a wider discussion with some other family members to try and sort things out. If that fails then a meeting with the whole church gathered is what Jesus suggests; the equivalent of a “family meeting”. This is all about trying to “love” the person who has failed back into the life of the church; it is patient love seeking to restore, even redeem, someone; so that they can make a new beginning in the life of the church family. If the person, or persons, who have failed are restored through the practical love of the other members of the church then how they would see the church would all be how it “felt” to be loved and restored. It is only when every loving means of restoring and redeeming the person who has failed has been exhausted that Jesus says they should be treated like a Gentile or Tax Collector. Which here means being excluded from the church family.

Jesus then talks about binding and loosening which is all about the authority of the church. This is not about Canon Law and Church Courts, rather this is about the family of the Jesus’ Church coming together as a family meeting to deal with a major issue, like a family member failing to live by the family’s values. The authority of the church living as Jesus’ family should not come from slavish obedience to rules and regulations but rather from when it comes together as a family, focused on its head, Jesus Christ. This does not means that the Church family cannot act with tough love. This kind of church authority is experienced rather than found in books of law and the courts.

Then Jesus talks about where “two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” Jesus is saying that whenever his family, the church, comes together to pray, to worship, to have fellowship, even to do some family administration, he, as the head of the family, is present. What is more Jesus is saying that he is present with his family even when there is only a couple of family member together

So what should the church feel like? It should feel like Jesus’ family where we feel loved and feel valued, where we feel we belong, no matter what mistakes and mishaps we may get into. This can’t be put into a Creed, it has to be experienced.

Bless you all,

Stephen

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