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Chapter 29 - Searching for Relational Christianity
It would be nice to look up the 'Relational Church' in the phone book, drive to the location, and step into good Christian fellowship. While not common, one can encounter churches that are welcoming, solicitous, and friendly. This conviviality can often mask a significant accommodation with the world. Since this sort of encounter is rare enough, it can easily be mistaken for genuine relationship. One indicator that it may not have any depth is that once amusing anecdotes and humorous banter is exhausted, there becomes a growing disinclination to associate.
Churches that are less worldly and more serious about learning Godís word and growing in faith are sadly often less welcoming and more judgmental than more worldly churches. There can be several reasons for this. Some feel they have the right way and either feel superior or protective against 'error'. Others attempt to be 'good' in their flesh and can be frustrated and judgmental of others. Still others become so ossified with procedures that are unquestioned that they amble through joyless motions set in place centuries earlier.
Most Christians think of churches as the place where Christianity is done. The primary expression of Christianity is to listen to a sermon and sing three hymns. Secondary Christianity would involve activities like choir, Sunday school, a fellowship meal, or even a bible study. The Christian led to seek a deeper faith, greater maturity, and closer relationship with other Christians will likely find that he will have to take the initiative to reach past these well-intentioned organizational offerings.
A man who had complained about church structure was once asked what his alternative system would be. He was unable to respond because he did not see Christianity as describable in system terms. While church systems can be frustratingly restrictive and limited, an alternative like house church can be scary and intimidating.
If a few people meet in a house, one will likely encounter different ideas of doctrine, unusual personalities, unsettling opinions, and closer scrutiny than one would receive in a typical church. One can easily understand the attraction of existing church structures as they insulate us from each other so that we are not required to face that which is unpleasant about each other.
Many recoil from the brutal, real, and personal effects that close encounters with others can entail. However, in such encounters is truth. While masked, ritualized, and scripted encounters can be more pleasant, there is little depth or opportunity to minister to each other.
Relational Christianity almost has to be sought outside of church systems by individuals seeking other individuals. One has to switch from 'automatic" and take manual control of his Christian life. While he may attend a church (or several churches), he is looking for others with who he can experience the deeper Christian life through relationships. Give the state of contemporary society and Christianity, this network of relationships will most likely be fragmentary and sporadic. However, there is so much more satisfaction in real, deep, and mature relationships that, once experienced, are difficult to abandon.
During the cold war with Russia, there was a story cited about persecuted Christians in Russia. It was said the once two Russian soldiers with machine guns broke into a secret Christian prayer group. They demanded to know if everyone was Christian. A few people said no and were allowed to leave. Then the soldiers asked if everyone left was a Christian and they said yes. The soldiers then said, 'Now, we will pray with you'.
The first 300 years of Christianity saw deeper relationships and greater love shown between believers. This was often a result of the periodic persecution Christians were subjected to. Now that Christianity is falling into disfavor again, deeper relationships may again become more common. Sometime the early Christians would identify each other by use of secret signs like the drawing of a fish.
Today one can 'salt' oneís conversation with Christian or biblical references as if 'fishing' for a nibble. If in conversation with someone from another church or even outside of church a person responds, further inquiry might reveal another person thirsty for the living water of Christ that can flow between believers.
In the kingdom age it will be easy to identify those who follow Christ.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; - Mark 16:17
In the church age it is not so easy.
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? - 1 Corinthians 3:3
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