Herald Journal Columns
Sept. 22, 2003 Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

Has today's church outlived the usefulness to the community?

By Rev. Bill Baldwin, Prairie Community Church, Lester Prairie

Some days, many days, I wonder if the church as an institution has outgrown its usefulness.

Anymore, you can get married at the Chapel of Love at Mall of America or fly out to Las Vegas. Any funeral home will do a funeral for you at the home, and arrange for someone to lead the service whether or not you have ever had any church connection.

I have done many of these funerals. I get the call, do the service, get my honorarium, and away I go.

People used to stay close to their church for cultural or social reasons, but anymore there is so much to do, with so many people, in so many ways that no one needs the church for their social or cultural life anymore.

So, what is the role of the church in the new millennium? Believe me, as a pastor I wonder about this every day.

You can tell people that the same God who spoke in the Bible is alive and active today, and most people don't care. You can tell people that their souls are in eternal danger if they continue living the way they do, and most will say they'll take their chances or worry about it later.

People no longer come to church because the church has a sense of power or control over them. People don't have a sense of fear that drives them to come to church. And so, most people don't have church going as a part of their lives.

At least in America, life is mostly very good. Even the events of Sept. 11, 2001 didn't do much to shake up our sense that we are still basically safe to go about life as we always have.

Who needs church when life is so good? And if things do go wrong, the hospitals all have staff chaplains to tend to people's spiritual needs. If things go wrong, there is a myriad of social and governmental programs to take care of whatever specific need arises.

Again I ask, what is the role of the church in the new millennium?

When a person calls the church for help, our standard line is that there isn't much we can do, so you had better call your local human services office or the local police if you need assistance.

At the local church level, what can we do for people that other agencies can't do better? Churches just aren't equipped to handle the diversity and complexity of needs that are out there today.

Somehow it just doesn't seem to be enough to say we'll pray for those who call and ask God to help them and provide what they need. Somehow it seems like there should be more we can do.

From the beginning, local churches have been places where those who believe that Jesus Christ is the risen Son of God have gathered to give thanks to God and follow the way that Christ showed us.

There was, for most of Christian history, a concern about what happened to us after we die, and a desire to know with certainty that death was not the end. Nowadays we mute those fearful feelings about death with more cable TV, fast food, and other cultural stimulation.

Our response to death is to push it out of our minds and not think about it.

And yet a third time I ask, what is the role of the church in a world that doesn't want what the church has to offer, that doesn't have an interest in looking at how to live lives that are more moral and Godly and humble?

What is the role of the church when the people don't really care whether there is a God or not?

If I had a conclusive, certain answer I would have given it after I asked the question the first time, but I am as up in the air about it as anyone else. I do firmly believe that God exists whether we believe it or not or whether we follow or not.

I firmly believe that God sent Jesus to show us how to live, and show us how to live forever. I firmly believe that the church could be a place for true believers to find a center of meaning in life, no matter what else is going on in the world.

Church still has the potential of meeting a multitude of human needs in ways that government and social service agencies can't and never will.

If the church is ever to be relevant again it must be made up of a handful of people whose lives have been transformed by the story of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins.

It must let go of trying to please the multitudes. It must stop remaining inoffensive so as not to drive off any who give financially to the church. It must be willing to take the handful of true believers in the risen Christ and let those people be a little light in the world.

The first churches were small clusters of believers, meeting in homes, who were willing to risk life and limb to follow their Savior.

Are you one of the true believers? If your church was ready to reduce itself to only those who were really ready to follow Christ with absolute sincerity, would you stay or go?

The churches that have a chance of surviving will be the ones who get back to the core commitment to following the risen Christ with everything they have.

Almost everyone left when Christ revealed he was going to die for his faith. Almost everyone left when he taught people how they must live to be pleasing to God. Maybe we are at such a time again.

Who is a Christian by faith commitment and who is Christian by family tradition? Let Christianity by faith commitment to the risen Christ be the common bond between those who make up the membership of any church.

Even if a church gets down to only a dozen core believers, it is much better off than hundreds of people who are just kindof there. Most churches are at least semi-irrelevant in today's world, but they don't need to be. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

It is time for those who truly believe in the power of Christ to say so and join together, for wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Christ, he is there in fullness and power.

Peace to all who put their faith in the living Christ.


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