The Church is being absorbed by the culture around it.
The Church no longer stands out from its culture.
What makes the Church stand out, and why has it lost it’s distinct and defining characteristics?
Parish is a centuries old Catholic Church idea that can help us regain our distinction as a Christ-centered Community in the world.
It’s easy to see that the Church has become a world unto itself. It has become separated from, but not separate from the surrounding culture. For everything the world has, there’s a Christian version. We have our own music, t-shirts, tv shows, movies, and health care coverage. We’ve even tried to carve out our own political party. When the Church has to distinguish itself through superficial and surface means, it has lost the core character of what defines it.
What makes the Church different from the world isn’t its ideas, truths, philosophy, or theology. We are set apart not by better truths or morals, but by a better Way of Life.
That Way is Jesus.
What makes the Church stand out as a community is being like Christ. Christ was in the world, but not of the world. The Church is currently of the world, but not in it.
Jesus didn’t come to give a different set of truths or morals. God made his ideals and truths clear through the Mosaic Law. The Law of Moses, what the Jews call the Torah, was clearly set out and well defined. There were moral, social, civic, dietary, and even personal hygiene laws. And if that wasn’t clear enough, the Jews went even further in defining God’s requirements through the Talmud. The Talmud was a compilation of how the Torah had been interpreted throughout the centuries by Jewish Rabbis and other Jewish religious teachers. Jesus didn’t come to add or subtract anything from the Talmud or the Torah. He can to show another way to fulfill what God desires and requires of humanity. Instead of rules, laws, ideals, and morals, Jesus gave us a much more simple and perfect Way. That Way is the impartation of His very Spirit directly into our hearts and minds.
The new thing Jesus came to give was Baptism into God through the Holy Spirit.
What sets the Church apart from the world is the Spirit within us.
The world has its own spirit.
God has His.
What does it mean to be set apart in Spirit, not just in ideas and moral behaviors.
It means that we have a whole new way of being human, which is the original way we were meant to live, which was lost through separation from God in the fall with Adam and Eve in the Garden.
Jesus came to reconnect us back the Father, Spirit to spirit, in a way which would restore us at the core of our very nature. Paul makes this clear in his Romans letter when he wrote, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:14 NLT). What makes a Christian distinct is the Spirit by which we are led.
There are two spiritual kingdoms over the world with two different spirits. There is the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world. What are these two spirits, and what are they like. Paul makes a clear distinction between these two spirits in his letter to the Church in Galatia.
There he writes, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses” (Galatians 5:16-18).
As Paul here points out, it’s not enough to have good intentions and a good set of moral rules. What we need are better desires. Desire is the deeper motivations by which we carry out our good ideas, ideals, and morals. If our ideas are good, but our desires are not, it won’t matter and it won’t make a difference.
At the core of who we are is spirit and Spirit.
We were created to be directed at the very center of our being by the Spirit of God. It is our separation from God that causes us to do what isn’t Godly. If the Church is just another institution attempting to carry out God’s good ideas apart from God’s Spirit, the results will be the same as the world. If we do not have the Spirit of God directing our lives, we won’t end up looking any different than the world, even if our ideas and morals are different.
What defines the Church, and separates it from the ways of the World is being led by the Spirit of God.
So, if the Church is being absorbed by the world, and no longer standing out from the world, it’s not because we don’t have different ideas or morals, it’s because we’ve forgotten how to be led by God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The remedy to that problem isn’t better information, but better spiritual formation. If the Church is no longer mentoring Christians in their spiritual connection to God, then we will drift back into being just like the world, no matter what we profess with our mouths or believe with our minds. That’s why Jesus placed discipleship as central to his mission and commission (Matthew 28:16-20).
The core of what the Church should be about is spiritual Elders mentoring spiritual youngers into a growing relationship with God. If the Church today is faltering, it’s not because the world around it is growing too strong and influential. It’s because the Church is no longer discipling Christians into life with the Spirit.
It’s the abiding presence of the Spirit that separates the Church from the World.
It’s time we admit that we’ve forgotten how to be led by the Spirit in our daily lives as Christians.
It’s time to recover what we’ve lost, and get back to relationship centered Christianity.
It’s our relationship with God through the Spirit that makes us distinct. And it’s the relationship of youngers with spiritually mature Elders that passes that God-connection from one generation to another.
It’s time the Church stop pointing at the darkness in the world, and start dealing with lack of God’s light within itself.
That's where the idea of a Parish can help.
Parish is a concept of Christian community that creates space for Christians to have daily contact with each other. If we’re not spending ample time together as Christians, we won’t be able to help each other grow to be more like Christ.
How can we create more space and time to be together? It’s up to each of us to look for more opportunities to do that. It would be great if local churches and local church leaders turned their attention away from producing such over-structured and limited access to Christian community. But even if they don’t, or won’t, as individual Christians we still can.
If as Christians we won't Parish, we will perish.
It’s time the Church draw inward again for a time, in order to be able to go out into the world with the light of Jesus in a way that can transform the World for Christ.