You know those signs at the front of the roller coaster line? The ones that have a cartoon character holding out his arm and if you can walk under the arm you cannot ride the ride? I remember once my daughter scraped the underside of the sign and was not allowed on the ride. Literally, had she been wearing a different pair of shoes, she would have made it! But the standard was rigid. For good reason, too. Her safety was at stake.
We get into trouble, however, when we attempt to apply such rigid standards to other situations. Take public schools, for instance. The governor of Missouri, Matt Blunt, wants to make a blanket requirement that 65% of the money in each school district is spent in the classroom. Sounds okay as an idea, huh? But then I read that some really excellent school districts are not close to that level. I remember reading that Liberty school district spends about 58% of its money in the classroom, and it is one of the best in the state. To require Liberty to raise their in classroom spending to 65% would require the reduction of some of the other wonderful things they are currently funding - things like arts, sports, or professional clubs, perhaps.
Or take church membership, as another example. There are many who want to put really high standards on becoming a member of a church. For example, you must attend a certain percentage of worship services, or give a certain percentage of your income, or serve in a certain number of outreach opportunities per year, or confess particular sins, etc. These, among other things, are some of the standards that some churches require in order for someone to be a full member. If you cannot agree to meet the standards, you cannot be a member of the church. And I certainly agree that supporting your church with your prayers, presence, gifts, and service, as well as confessing your sin before God, are desirable activities for church members.
But do we go too far? When we assign rigid standards to becoming a church member, what have we done to the meaning of membership? Have we not changed church into something to which we belong rather than something that we are?
If you start a club, you can set your own standards for membership - high sign, secret handshake, whatever. Problem is, church is not a club. People do not "belong to" the church; people ARE the church. Just like that old Sunday School song says - "We are the church together." Church membership is not like joining a club, not a status symbol, not an item on one's resume, not access to a set of privileges denied to non-members. To set rigid standards on church membership is to demean the church by making it just one more club among many.
"High standard" churches tend to have a lot of people in them, however. Surely this fact would tend to lead us toward imposition of such rigid expectations for membership. Yes, if you are using numerical growth as your only assessment tool for "success." It is difficult to measure faithfulness, however. And to say that large membership churches are the only ones that are being faithful is just not truthful, and a gross oversimplification of reality. An incarnate relationship that invokes the presence of Christ requires only 2 or 3 to gather in his name.
The "mystic, sweet communion" that is the Church of Jesus Christ is so much more than artificially imposed standards can reflect. Anywhere, anytime, any group gathers in the name of Christ Jesus, there is the church. To say anything else, it seems to me, is shoddy ecclesiology. Let's take down the "You Must Be This Tall..." signs at our church doorways and start being the church again!
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