By: Jana Greene
“And though it is true that the church must always disassociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God’s kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Brennan Manning
It is a place and a people, both.
My earliest exposure to church was as a small child in my grandparent’s Baptist congregation in Houston, Texas. I remember my grandmother carrying me on her vast hip down the aisle, introducing me to other congregants as we passed. When I sat down next to her for the service, I was surprised to see that everywhere was red. Inside the proud brick building, pews were deep red velvet, as was the carpet. Shiny Baptist hymnals were red as well, although many had faded to pink from the sun through stained glass.
“This is God’s house,” I remember her whispering to me.
I had heard about him before – God – in the stories that my grandparents read about all of the animals being crowded into a boat because water was filling up the world, and about his talking to a man in the belly of a fish. I told my grandmother that filling the world with water didn’t seem like a very nice thing to do, and she’d chuckled. She explained that God sent a rainbow as a promise that he would never do it again, and that the flood seemed bad but was really good. “Noah’s flood meant that God’s people could start all over again.”
She also told me about God’s Son, the Teacher. He lived a long time ago and loved all the people. She said that even though this Teacher was in Heaven with God, He would live in me, too, if I asked.
At thirteen years of age, I asked.
Since that time, I have experienced the Spirit of God many times in churches – and also the stinging judgment of my fellow humans there. So long as services are held on this planet, there will be issues in the churches. As is true with most tangible things, the church itself is imperfect. It is a divinely touched organic thing, subject to troubles when people forget to offer up Self as a living sacrifice to him. Sometimes even good people forget. The church should disassociate itself with sin by virtue of it’s holiness….but there is always hope for sinners. God’s son, the Teacher, said so.
He has called us to gather and fellowship anyway. We need each other. He also said to welcome others into his church just as they are, and to do so with love, to point people to Jesus.
The “place” of church has changed through the years. Today, services are just as likely to be held in a building that shares walls with a grocery store, or on the sea-side, or in the auditorium of a middle school. Some have sleek décor and play rock music, some deliver messages by simulcast, some are still in proud brick buildings with stained glass and hymnals faded pink by the sun. There is a church for every taste nowadays, for every spiritual leaning.
But the God of the people in his church is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. His church seems to be growing in passion for the lost ones, those Christ was so passionate about. Many followers of Jesus are constantly aware of their guilt and sin in order to spread the awareness of joyous forgiveness.
God’s house should be the perfect place people to start over again, not for keeping sinners at a distance. God’s people should be the loving extension of his grace, a people whose souls are stained a deep, crimson red with his blood.
A place and people full of grace.