Is Church only Church when We Get it Right?

I’m reading Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne, reading it for  a presentation I will be doing at the Practicing Resurrection conference in August.  I’m struck by his very moving story of the homeless woman and children in the St Eds cathedral, as the roman Catholic archdiocese is seeking to evict them. To his credit he doesn’t enter into either anti-institutional church nor anti-Catholic diatribe.  But his account does still have that purist notion that church happens when Christians get it right .

I understand the impulse: make a difference, right wrongs, live as though and so that the world will be different.  I too can get impatient.  But what is getting it right?  (and just so you know I’m no longer talking about or to Shane)    Church is an odd thing.  Read the letter’s of Paul, those Saints in the city of such and such weren’t getting letters from the Apostle to pat them on the back for how good they were doing.  Paul generally wrote because those churches weren’t getting it right.  In fact most of the New Testament are letters to the churches because they were messing it up, and missing the point!   In Acts a quick read may leave the impression that in those first days of the Church after the Spirit descended there we had the perfect church (Luke kind of wants us to think this) but then there are Ananias and Sapphira, and the controversy over the care of the Hellenistic widows. (Division and segregation separate but equal at the moment so close to all those amazing things we think we’d get it right if only we wer closer, if only we could experience those things)  it’s likely that the Church never has gotten it right, and maybe just maybe we are missing something about the Body of Christ and Christian faith.

Moralism can slip in so easily.  At first, any form of moralism fits so nicely, its’ comforting, we know what to do, and who to judge. You can be a moralist about how to or not to engage corrupt systems, as much as one  can be moralist about what one should or shouldn’t do in the privacy of ones own home and heart.  The church is a hospital, rehab, center and school for those in recovery from the World.    But also the church is none of those things.

Back to those messed up churches of Paul, those Saints who haven’t got a clue about what it means to follow christ, (sound familiar).  Paul doesn’t encourage them to live more strictly according to the Rules, private moral , or justice  and activism, but to be joined with Christ in Christ’s suffering, and death.  This is neither literal nor figurative, but mystical, and it’s a process. Doing the right thing in either personal uprightness or social justice will not produce the fruit we  truly seek without this identification with Christ.

The transformation we seek isn’t about getting it right, whatever that might be, but about being transformed in and with others and the world.  We don’t make the transformation, we open ourselves up to it.

This transformation certainly is in the midst of standing with those who suffer injustice, but it is also in the midst of Christians even official christians members of the church getting it wrong.  Certainly if we isolate ourselves from others, judge others, complain about those people, we do impede our own openness to God’s transforming work, we perpetuate the Wold in ourselves and in the world around us.  However, God isn’t hindered in the work, accomplished in Jesus Christ, of our transformation and that of the world.

We don’t change ourselves or the world, we can only be united with the one who is changing us and has overcome the World.  Then we are propelled into the multiplicity of actions and contemplations that the Spirit equips us to do.  We can’t get it right, but we can be made right, be transformed and so can our world.  And the Gospel is that it has been and is being so transformed.


  • Wanda

    As I write Sunday Plus Curriculum it is my prayer this truth will be caught by the children. We are totally dependent on the Triune God for wisdom and the desire and strength to follow the wisdom. So when we teach to love that unloveable kid at school (based on the scripture of the week) we share this is impossible to do but that God give them the strength and desire to do so. Thus it begins with prayer and submission.

    Part of the problem with children’s ministry is that we teach legalism ( ) which then is difficult to leave behind when we grow up and become “adults.” 🙂

    Larry, what scripture do you (or others)use to say that the Church is a hospital? It speaks in scripture of believers being soldiers. Certainly an army has an infirmary – but it is my “opinion” that when we put too much emphasis on the infirmary it keeps people from healing and getting back out into the battle.

    • Larry Kamphausen

      As I understand it the scriptural basis for seeing the church as hospital is based in Jesus’ healing ministry. Also, the analogy of sin as an ilsness that God heals us fromBut I agree that to focus on this aspect of church isn’t necessarily healthy. i would also say that focusing on the militant aspect of church and the life of faith isn’t healthy either. Paul also speaks of the journey of faith as an athletic contest. Peter speaks of the church as an exiled and wandering people. the mystery that is the church and is our dependence upon God needs many metaphor’s and images and concepts for us to comprehend.
      and your point about so much children’s ministry being legalistic has been one of the most shocking things to see as I’ve looked for stuff to help me minister to children that have come through Reconciler. So, contrary to how I was raised in the faith.