Hospital or museum?

Is the church a “hospital for sinners?” A “museum of saints?”

Is the church a place of safety and solitude, or is it an outpost from which to launch missions into sometimes hostile territory?

Every day, I have conversations with members and guests about what we’re doing as a church. Each person is shaped by strong views of what they think the church is or ought to be.

The Apostle Peter, the one on whom Jesus said he would build the church, had a bunch of powerful metaphors to describe it.

There is “living stones.” The church is a group of people, built together like stones in a wall, where the Spirit of God resides.

Peter said the church is “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation.” At the same time, he said church members are “aliens and strangers in the world.”

Together those metaphors, and there are lots more of them in the Bible, paint a wonderful, complex, and engaging picture of the church. There’s a lot there to both support and challenge our personal views. Clearly, Peter says the church is set apart in order to be a light to the culture. But, just by being the church, we’ll be treated as aliens and strangers.

The great thing about being a church in the center of the city is that we’re called to live into the fullness of Peter’s metaphors, in all their wonderful complexity.


Discovering you

After living overseas for many years, a couple moved to the city and enrolled their daughter in a high school downtown. The first question her new classmates asked her was not, “Where are you from?” Their first question was, “Are you gay or straight?”

That was several years ago. Today the question students are asking is, “Do you identify as a male, female, or something else?”

In the January/February 2016 issue of Christianity Today, Alissa Wilkinson says that 2015 was “The year we searched for ourselves.” Wilkinson says that “Christians commonly assume, alongside mainstream culture, that the process of knowing ourselves is an individual one….”  “To thine own self be true,” the famous words of Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, may be the unofficial motto of our culture today. But it’s not that simple. The people around us dramatically affect our perception of ourselves.

Wilkinson points to the Netflix series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, about a young woman who’s freed after 15 years of captivity in an underground bunker. She sets off to New York to find herself. But the people she interacts with all have their own strengths and weaknesses; things they like about themselves, and things they’d rather not reveal.

The truth is, self-identification takes place in a particular context. If Kimmy went to Des Moines instead of New York she would identify something different in herself.  Wilkinson says, “In reality, though, we don’t first find ourselves, then participate in relationships. Instead, we were made to know ourselves in relationships.”

Christians understand that we were all created in God’s image. This is why God gave us the church; to be, in part, the context through which the creator reveals to us our truest selves. As Wilkinson says, “We become more like Christ as we participate in the life of the church and form relationships there.”