Our fifteen-month old granddaughter is moving on to her third pair of shoes. The problem is that her feet keep growing but her shoes do not grow with her. It is the simple, but ever-present problem of life refusing to conform to fixed structures. It is not that shoes are wrong. Far from it – they can be extremely helpful and useful to both protect and enable. However, if they are not changed to keep up with the feet they are designed for, they end up being harmful and disabling.
I am not certain how it has happened, but there is a widespread, possibly universal, fallacy, that suggests if we just get the right church structure God will accommodate spiritual life to fit into it. That is of course nonsense, both in theory and practice.
When Jesus gave final instructions to His followers, their principle task was to make disciples and these learners (a simple and accurate meaning of disciples) were to learn from Jesus Himself. Through the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to every one of His followers, He would tailor make a course of instruction for each person. In that way He would build His Church and even the gates of hell would be unable to prevail against it.
However, somehow we have got our knickers in a twist (if you’ll pardon the expression, but it is the most accurate I can think of). Instead of us making learners and bringing them to Jesus for Him to fit into His Church – which He would continually adjust to protect and enable everyone who comes to Him, we try to build churches ourselves, by making people our disciples and squeezing them into the structure we have created. Instead of standing against hell, the result tends to be damaged, disabled and disillusioned Christians who can barely stand against anything.
It is not a question of form versus spontaneity: either, may be helpful or harmful. The issue is whether the Church is serving and nurturing life or whether the life is having to fit into the mould of the Church (whether a formal or a spontaneous one).
There tend to be two scenarios. If people are not live, Spirit filled followers of Jesus, take away the mould and they are likely to disintegrate. If people are truly born again and manifest genuine life, and are then squeezed into a particular mould (any mould), the likelihood is that after a few weeks, months or even years, they will lose their zeal and their first love for Jesus.
The only Church that will not be shaken, indeed which cannot be shaken, is the Church built by Jesus. One of the reasons God shakes things, is to reveal what Jesus has built and what we have built. Heaven help us if we then try and rebuild what God has shaken down.
We are of course, called to be co-workers with Jesus, so we do have a part in building the Church. But the blueprint He is using is in heaven and He will only let us in on it a little bit at a time, because it will change with every new person He brings into union with Himself. This is no more than common sense. When a child is born into a family, the family changes. Sleep patterns change, meal times may change, allocation of finances will change. The concept of family life remains, but the outworking of that concept will vary with each new member and from family to family.
Once we believe that we have got the pattern, or that our particular little church is the one He has chosen to demonstrate how it should be done, that is probably the point at which we have actually lost the plot.
The Church will be glorious: a bride so radiant that it will demonstrate the fullness of Christ through all eternity. Jesus will accomplish that: I am pretty certain we are not able to.