Last week the Pew Research Center released a new survey showing that Millenials tend to be more politically independent, less religious, and less likely to marry than previous generations.
That fewer young adults today consider themselves religious than in previous generations shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. We see it in our pews, in the number of faithful adults whose adult children have only a passing acquaintance with church–or none at all. We’ve heard about the growing numbers of nones–those who claim no religious affiliation–and the increasing number of people who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Most of us can put names to the faces of those who have taken spiritual journeys that have led them away from the church. Barna labels them as exiles, nomads, and prodigals. Not all of them have abandoned their faith. Many still consider themselves Christians, but see church as optional.
That temptation to view church as optional strikes more than just millenials. We people are messy, complicated things. When we bring that complicated mess together in one place called church, sometimes the mud really starts to fly. We look around us at the raised voices and wounded hearts and hear the quiet chord of the refrain: it was never meant to be this way. As that poignant note tolls in our hearts, sometimes it seems easier just to walk away. Shake the dust off your feet. Don’t look back. “Loving God doesn’t mean loving the church.” Except that it does.
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You see, this Christian life was ever meant to be lived in isolation. As church, we host the presence of God in our midst. Under the Old Covenant God’s presence dwelt in the tabernacle and temple. The cross changed that, rending the veil between God and his people. At Pentecost, the Spirit of God came to dwell in the hearts of his people. The temple of God is now the church–not the building but the community of God’s people. We experience the indwelling of the Spirit as individuals, but we also experience it corporately. When we come together as church it’s not just to sing songs we like or catch up with old friends. We come together to host the presence of the Lord and experience his power in our midst. When we cut ourselves off from church, we cut ourselves off from that presence and power. We miss out on koinonia.
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Koinonia is the Greek word we most often translate as fellowship. Koinonia can mean to impart something, to share in, or to participate in together. When we gather as God’s people we impart spiritual blessings and gifts to one another. We share in one another’s joys and sufferings. We participate in a common life and mission as the people of God, the body of Christ on earth. That living bond of koinonia also has a cosmic dimension. The church is a fulfillment of the eternal purposes of God. From the beginning of time God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:9). When we as the church are the church, when we function as God’s people are meant to be, God’s wisdom is declared to Satan and all his forces of evil. They see God’s wisdom displayed in the church and they tremble. There is a spiritual power released in our fellowship that Satan and all his demons cannot stand against. No wonder they try so hard to destroy it.
That’s what keeps me from walking away–that knowledge that I am part of something bigger than myself. I know that as church, we are called to be God’s people. We are called to host his presence, to show the world what it looks like to live freely as the redeemed people of God. And I think when we get that right, people won’t walk away from it. They’ll line up at the doors trying to get in.
The Spirit and the Bride say “Come!” Will you respond to the invitation?
Q: What does it mean to you to host God’s presence? Let us know in the comments!
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