Church centered, not church occupied
I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I am not saying that church membership is optional for the Christian, or is of less importance than our own individualized walk with God. I agree with Cyprian (200/210-258) who said that an individual “cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.” If we read the New Testament and miss this it means we are reading through lens molded by the individualism of our modern era.
What I mean to say here is that though we must be church centered (seeing it as essential to faith) we must not be church occupied. I am using the second term the way Dick Keyes does when he says that Christian tribalism occurs from “a church having so many weekly meetings that its members have little or no free time. Members are unable to relate to those outside of their fellowship group because they lead a church-occupied life… What is Christian tribalism? Put simply, it is having little voluntary association with those who are not Christians, whether in recreation, social life, or friendship.”
I remember back in the sixties, Paul Little of InterVarsity was fond of saying that Christians should always have at least two people in their life who were not Christians that they were praying for by name and with whom they had a growing, ever-deepening friendship. It was good advice.
The point is not guilt, for goodness sake. We’ll all have times when we can’t name two, because life is fluid, people move, and circumstances change. The point is to begin. By faith praying for friendships; by faith rearranging priorities and commitments so it is possible; by faith being someone who listens, asks questions, and gives the grace of hospitality and unhurried time; by faith being willing to learn and say I don’t know; by faith walking in a fallen world like Jesus did, without defensiveness and interested in everything because Christ is Lord of all.
Busyness in good things, including church things, is not always good. There is, after all, a tyranny of the urgent that can keep us from what is truly important.
Margie and I find that we have to revisit our priorities every few months or things slide out of kilter. Knowing the difference between being church centered and church occupied—and living it out—is one part of that process.