God loves His church, His bride, and so do I! I have grown up in the church and work with an evangelistic Christian youth organisation that works across denominations, so I have spent probably thousands of hours in Christian gatherings. For most of my adult life, I have been championing unity in the church, echoing the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that we may be one (vv20-23). Yes, we have our theological differences and preferences for how we gather and do worship, yet we were all purchased by the same blood, redeemed to be one with the Father, and going to the same heaven. After all, there will be no denominational divisions in heaven!
I think sometimes in our pursuit of truth we have forgotten that ultimately our life is about relationship - first and foremost our relationship with God and then with others; ‘a new command I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). Don’t get me wrong, Jesus loves truth, after all He IS truth (John 14:6), and it is right to pursue truth - the person of Jesus as a very living being and the truths we find in scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17; Acts 17:11). However, at times we hold so tightly to our theological doctrines that we can even end up hating our brothers and sisters - God forbid! Without going into it, church history is replete with Christians warring with each other - just think Anabaptists being burned at the stake during the 16th century!
Now I believe nearly every Christian has their ideal of church, yet no church is going to be perfect this side of heaven. I too have my preferences of how I love to gather and what we should do as we gather and I’m dreaming of the day when that can be fully realised. In the meantime, I live in the tension of ‘the ideal and the real’. At a time when I was really struggling with this, a godly old saint, without even knowing of my struggle, sent me these two quotes:
“Be realistic in your expectations. Once you discover what God intends real fellowship to be, it is easy to become discouraged by the gap between the ideal and the real in your church. Yet we must passionately love the church in spite of its imperfections. Longing for the ideal while criticising the real is evidence of immaturity. On the other hand, settling for the real without striving for the ideal is complacency. Maturity is living with the tension.”
Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church
“There are two things, the actual and the ideal. To be mature is to see the ideal and live with the actual. To fail is to accept the actual and reject the ideal, but to accept only that which is ideal and refuse the actual is to be immature. Do not criticise the actual because you have seen the ideal. Do not reject the ideal because you see the actual. Maturity is to live with the actual but hold to the ideal.”
Derek Prince (unknown source)
These quotes were life changing for me! It gave me permission to dream of the ideal with God yet live at peace with the reality of the actual. So as you read this series, please read it as from someone who does not intend to criticise or pass judgement on the church, but as one who calls the church higher, to be closer to the ideal of what God intends the church to be. Read it as one of God’s kids, in a certain time, space and place, in a specific season of her life, having a subjective experience of different church gatherings. And like all experiences, not everything can be included, and not everything should be included. And like all experiences, the perspective on that experience can change with distance from that event. Had it been a different moment in time, my perspective could be very different to what is shared. In addition, I wrote these reflections the day of my attendance at the gatherings, therefore there is little to no editing of the content, as I want you to read the immediate response of my heart.
Like you, I can’t wait for the day when we, all together - from every tribe, nation and language - stand before the throne as one to worship the Lamb (Rev 7:9-17). What a glorious day it will be when absolutely no divisions separate us.
In conclusion, I’d love to hear your feedback on this series! Please get in touch if anything resonates, anything you don’t like, anything that challenges you to view things a little differently. I’d love to have an ongoing conversation with you in regards to how you view church right now, in your own unique season.
Having said all that, let’s get into it!
(Please note, all photos used in this series are stock photos, unless otherwise credited, and not pictures from actual gatherings attended)