Making a Case for Northway Christian Church
Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes
and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. (Luke 14:23)
The Babylon Bee, a Christian satire site, recently posted a facetious article on the “Eight Steps to Finding the Right Church” (http://babylonbee.com/news/8-steps-finding-right-church/). It began by noting that “statistics indicate that if you live near a major metropolitan area, there are literally three million churches in your neighborhood alone.” With that many options available to you, they concluded that “there’s probably a church designed to your exact specifications and built from the ground up to cater specifically to you,” and so they came up with a “checklist of essentials to look for in a potential church match,” things like – “Make sure the worship band only plays the genre you like,” “Pick a church where everyone pretends to be happy,” and “if the preacher starts calling you to self-examination and repentance, run.”
I thought about this clever piece of writing as I began working with the Scripture for the next message in the Lenten Series that I’m preaching at church on “Table Manners: Learning the Meal Habits of Jesus.” Each week we’re looking at a different story from the Gospel of Luke about Jesus eating with someone to learn from Him a little bit more about the shape of His coming Kingdom of grace. This Sunday, in the last sermon in this series, we’ll be looking at Luke 14:15-24, the Parable of the Wedding Feast that Jesus told after the Sabbath dinner party with the Pharisees where He healed the man with dropsy (14:1-14).
The phrase from this parable that Jesus told that attached itself firmly to my head and heart as I began pouring it “into” and “over” me this past weekend as part of my preparation for preaching it next Sunday was the last instruction of the host to his servants to ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full” (Luke 14:23).
The Greek word translated “compel” here in this text is very strong. It is the imperative of “anankazo,” a word meaning “force,” “compel,” or even “drive.” John Wesley gave this comment on “compel them to come in” – “with all the violence of love, and the force of God’s Word. Such compulsion, and such only… was used by Christ and the Apostles.” And Alfred Plummer pointed out that “the compelling was by persuasion.” We are to use the force and persuasion of argument to compel people to come into the church. (http://www.rlhymersjr.com)
Adam Hamilton, a well-known and highly-respected United Methodist pastor, says that one of the critical questions that we need to answer before giving ourselves and our resources to a church is – “Why do the people in this community need this church?” With the “three million churches in our neighborhood alone,” there have got to be some rather compelling reasons why we would choose to involve ourselves with one church rather than another. So what are they? In the words of the parable, when the host of the Banquet sends us out to compel people to come in so that his house might be full, what are the very best arguments that you could marshal to get them to come into this house?
I’m going to start this examination by taking off the table right from the get-go the first two answers that we all instinctively offer up when the question gets asked – “Why should I come to your church?” The answer –“Because the people around here are just so nice” – only works until they’re not, and that day always comes. Because the church is composed of frail fallen people and exists in a frail fallen world, it is always going to fall short of the standard that God sets for its life, and this means that at some point church people are going to fail you. They are going to be mean, insensitive, inconsistent, self-serving, narrow-minded, cliquish, intransient, and if the reason you joined a church was because of the people, then when they let you down it will be time to move on. A demonstrable commitment to mutual forgiveness is a much more realistic relational quality for a church to embrace and promote than some imagined embodiment of a mythic relational ideal like being “the friendliest church in town.” The church exists as a place of grace and not as bastion of virtue. The church teaches virtue to be sure, but the church always comes up short in virtue’s implementation, and so mercy must be the church’s strong suit.
The second standard answer that usually gets offered up when the question gets asked – “Why should I come to your church?” – is “because it’s exciting.” “Boring church” is the accusation that routinely gets leveled at “ordinary means of grace” churches that just steadily go about the business of preaching and teaching the Word, observing the Gospel ordinances, bearing one another’s burdens, and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, witnessing and serving from their front doorsteps to the ends of the earth. But today this is not enough. Today church has also got to be fun. A generation ago A.W. Tozer warned about the dangerous allure of “the great god entertainment.”
For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was — a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from accountability to God. For this, she got herself roundly abused by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse, and has given up the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment — she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers. So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called Christians. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders, who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it!
If putting on a better show than the church down the street is putting on is the reason why people are coming to your church, then just as soon as that other church down the street starts putting on a better show than you are, then that’s where the people will go. It’s an endless chase.
So, if neither “fun” nor “nice” are compelling and enduring enough reasons to get people in, then what are? Well, in light of this week’s Scripture, I’ve been thinking a lot about this with reference to Northway as a congregation in particular, and to the Disciples of Christ as a denomination in general. Remember I am not a “birth-right” Disciple. I was not born into this spiritual family. I chose it freely from among alternatives, and I have served it now for 38 years as an ordained minister, for 42 years if you count my four years as a licensed Disciples minister, first in the South Idaho/Utah Region (1975-76), and then in the Southwest Region (1977-1979) before my ordination, and I can assure you that there were some good and sufficient reasons for this commitment of my life. And so beginning tomorrow and concluding on Wednesday, I will give you the ten primary arguments that I would use to try to make a “compelling” case for Northway Christian Church, a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). DBS +