I was in a spiritual direction meeting Friday with a man who is very committed to the Lord and serious about his discipleship. We got on the issue of church and his journey of faith in multiple settings. What he said resonated with me in light of my last post on "a church guide for agnostics and atheists." He spoke about authentic faith and genuinely seeking to be holy, but the center point had to do with God's goodness and mercy. This led me to some pondering and reflecting in the tdays that followed.
If someone is unsure God exists, or doesn't believe at all, what would motivate them to be active in a church? One possibility is that the church could deny its identity and become so secular that it blends into the culture. We can do things like make Good Friday about Earth Day. The problem is, the contemporary church which does that chases after "contemporary" but is no longer a church. No, being less about faith and draining away the offense of Jesus Christ is not a real option.
I would suggest, that a church which is in touch with Mystery can make inroads with those who have little or no faith. If the worship radiates a sense of awe and wonder that can touch people's hearts. If the people truly gather to focus on God, to glorify Him and thank Him, to listen to Him and be open to Him, then there will be hope for the 'outsider' to be drawn in. Too often, we make worship an "experience" and it takes on the form of entertainment. (I am GUILTY!) Our 'me-focused' style of approaching God is not shallow, it is just not deep enough to draw others in. It points in the wrong direction, toward us.
When we truly look to God, and others turn their eyes in the same direction, even though we have few explanations about the mystery, the fact of pointing toward the mystery has the power to silence our minds. Which leads to another element. Apologetics is a wonderful exercise and needed to address the arguments and misreadings of our faith. But, at times there is an arrogance to some Christian witness. Whereas Jesus spoke in mystical stories about God, we are tempted to construct theologies which require a special vocabulary. Even those Christians who shun theolgy as "man's word" and use only Scripture to present the faith lose touch of the mystery. The act of choosing certain verses is an act of editing God's word. It also tends toward a Rationalist approach and squeezes Sripture into the solution to our needs, instead of a life transforming encounter with the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY.
I think 'non-believers' are not moved by our arguments because they have different assumptions and a different vocabulary. [The progressives in our church seem, at least, to be aware of that fact. The problem with their approach is to drain the faith of any meaningful Christian truth.] However, a church which encounters the stories of Jesus and the stories of Israel, a church which encounters the Mystery of God by humbly listening for His voice in narrative (in the context of a developed and articulated faith) can be a place where those who question can also encounter the Lord. I believe the faith struggles of the church leader are a connecting bridge to the heart, mind and spirit of those people. In the end, faith is a gift of self: God has given Himself to us and requires that we give ourselves to Him. Our failure to do this has many causes, sin being the first and most important, but also our wounds and brokeness, also our fears and ignorance, and certainly the bad example of Christ followers who seem nothing of the sort.
This is why the church must not only have true worship and humility before the Mystery of God, but also a firm sense of service to the world's needs. Outreach in love, flowing from a community of people who care about one another, is demanded. It is demanded by God in both testaments. It is the constant behavior of faithful Christians in every age and in every manner of church. As Jesus heals, feeds and cares for the needs of the broken, so must the local church. Each gathering must point (in worship) to the (in a sense) Unknowable God. Each gathering must focus to the (in a sense) Knowable Mission. To proclaim Jesus in word, but even better, in action. A church which makes an impact on the broken and wounded will have appeal to those uncertain about God's existence. It is a back door through which they can enter relationship with the invisible and often silent God. It is in seeing the Love of Christ manifest, that cold hearts can be warmed.
It is a challenge to do this. Yet, the power of God in us makes it possible to hope. As we become less defensive defenders of the faith, more faithful articulators of the faith, more gentle, kind and holy in our boldness, we will see the impact. It is God's work so we rely on Him, but we are His tools: our words, our deeds, our lives, especially our lives together.