Imagine…

By Donavon Riley

Imagine a church’s mission statement is: “You Don’t Have to Fake It ‘Till You Make It.” That is, you walk into church, and an usher hands you a bulletin. On the front, it reads: “We don’t expect you to believe everything we confess, pray, preach, and sing about this morning. You’re invited to join us for worship anyway. Listen to the sermon, pray, and sing with us. You’re a gift to us, and we trust the Holy Spirit will change your heart in his own time. Please come again and ask any questions that you may have.”

What would happen if a church didn’t keep this a secret? What if it advertised itself in this way: “We don’t have all the answers, and we don’t have perfect faith either. Please join us this Sunday as we confess our limitations and failures to live up to the name ‘Christian’ and ask God to turn our hearts to Him and reveal His will to us through Jesus our Savior.”

What if a church actually had the audacity to publish in the local paper: “Miracles do happen here every Sunday”? The half-page spread reads: “We have water that creates new men in Christ. We serve bread and wine, which really are Jesus’ true body and blood… somehow. It’s a mystery, but we believe it is because God says it is. We’ve got a preacher who speaks words that actually do what they say! “As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by his authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins” Imagine a church that advertised itself like that.

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What would that congregation look like? What kind of questions would come up in Bible Study? What if the Sunday School teacher taught children about “Failures of The Faith” instead of “Heroes of the Faith?” Imagine the pastor’s whole sermon wasn’t about doing better, growing in faith, or putting a happy face on our religion. He just speaks to us, speaking into us Christ’s work “for you.” Jesus’ gifts delivered to us. The weight of measuring up, justifying yourself, becoming respectable all taken off us as so many sins and carried by Him. What if we’re told that this didn’t happen just today but every day into eternity?

What if a church admitted publicly that we can’t work hard enough to become better Christians; that respect and reverence is fine as far as that goes, but it doesn’t get us one step closer to God Almighty; that we will love as we’re loved by God, but that this happens in God’s time not according to our time table?

Imagine there was a church where we could freely and openly admit we don’t really believe everything that’s confessed, prayed, preached, and sung about Sunday morning. What would it be like to belong to a church that didn’t expect perfect, or even good, Christians? What if there was a congregation whose only criteria for membership required everyone to be a terrible mess of a sinner who needs a gracious, loving, and gift-giving Savior?

Imagine if we didn’t need to fake it anymore because we’d heard the Good News that it’s not about us, and our doing. Rather, it’s about Jesus “for you.” Just imagine… if a church like that existed. AMEN.

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2 thoughts on “Imagine…

  1. Haven’t tried the newspaper thing, but this certainly is our message to visitors.

    I’m not sure I agree on a couple of notes you hit. There is growth in faith when one is part of the church:

    “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” (2 Thess. 1:3) Paul also speaks of faith growing in 2 Corinthians 10.

    The Good News reassures us that, even when things get tough, God loves us and is active in our lives forgiving us and working for each one of us even as we pray “keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please You.” and “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We are not just biding time for the hereafter, bemoaning our lot, and dwelling on our failures until it is all over “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” It is important to admit that good is happening, in and through us, even when we cannot see it. We cannot work hard to be better Christians but God is working hard on us to make us what we can be in spite of our sin. It is about what Jesus has done and is still doing for us. Laying our sins on Him in confession, receiving the sacrament, receiving absolution we stand before the cross, His Body, and His judgment throne.

    Our eternal lives began in the waters of baptism, our lives are already in Christ, and He provides His Body and Blood to sustain us in this new life until we leave our sinful selves in the grave. How could this leave anything but a happy face on our faith?

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