What Kind of Church Do You Belong To?

I get asked that question all the time, but when I am asked it folks are not generally inquiring about my denominational affiliation. The question usually goes something like this:

“Do you belong to a gay church?”

Now, that just happens to be the question I get asked because of some of the activism I am involved in, but there are other questions not unlike it:

“Do you belong to a Bible believing church?”
“Do you belong to a mega-church?”
“Do you belong to an integrated church?”
“Do you belong to a ‘Christian’ church?”

The list goes on and on — you can fill in the blank with any number of “churches”.

I have become convinced that none of those questions are relevant or appropriate. In fact, I have come to the place where I believe that the only appropriate qualifier to place before “church” is “God’s.” All the rest is nonsense — in fact, all the rest is nothing less than idolatry because the minute you put an adjective in front of the word church you imply that the church exists for some reason other than to worship God, glorify God, and grow in our Christian journey. Worse yet, pretty often those qualifiers are placed in front of the word “church” to imply that somehow our church is better than all the others. In fact, we often use these qualifiers to imply that our church is the only authentic or legitimate church — and that is always an error.

In some cases, such as in the expression “gay church”, there isn’t a claim to supremacy being made, but rather a statement about who is welcome. The only problem with that is that there should never be a church that isn’t completely welcoming to every human being. If your church isn’t welcoming to everybody, then it isn’t a church it is some sort of a mutual comfort society serving the interest of bigots in denial. If your church is part of the reason that people feel compelled to start a church that will allow them in, then your church is a problem and not a church. The teachings of Jesus again and again sought to teach this lesson, yet some 2000 years later we still struggle with it. That having been said, there is a sense in which establishing a church for a marginalized group does it a disservice in that it merely relegates the marginalized to a different, perhaps better decorated, ghetto than the ghetto of exclusion they currently inhabit.

There is another problem with special interest churches. They tend to interpret scripture through the lens of their special interest. Rather than allowing the Spirit of God to inform scripture interpretation, there may be a tendency to repeatedly approach scripture from the perspective of “our group”. We might ask, “What does this passage have to say to left handed people?” The problem is that reading through such a lens cannot help but distort the Word of God.

Forget about the special interests. Recognize that any legitimate church is full of all sorts of people from many different groups. The only special interest that any church should have is the complete inclusion of every human being. The fullness of the church is achieved only in the fullness of the diversity of its members. We should all long for the day when we truly recognize that we need each other because all of us are crucial parts of the Body of Christ.

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