Saw this on a bumper sticker lately: “Nature Is My Church.” Now, I’ve been known to worship God in the out-of-doors quite a bit. If you know me, you know that I love to get out and walk, hike, kayak etc. I dig a mountain view. A crisp clear, rushing stream. The wide expanse of horizon at the shore. Waterfalls of every shape, size and volume of H2O. I love to see some critters, too. From moose, to bison, to little birds, I love to see them all. And when I see such beautiful creations, I give thanks and praise to God. I worship. With awe and gratitude for who God is and what He does. I reflect on my own smallness and sinfulness in comparison to the Great God that made this vast universe and knows the where-abouts of every one of His creatures. Nature, and spending time in nature, often evokes from within me, deep and heartfelt praise and adoration and even a good measure of repentance and humility. In this sense, I “get” what this bumper sticker might be saying.
But. (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) But. I’m not so sure that is the whole of what the person who stuck this on her car is getting at. I’m guessing that there is more in this simple phrase than a love for nature. I’m guessing that there is also a DISLIKE of “organized religion” and the “Christian Church” in particular. Again, I can understand such sentiments.
The Church is made up of people. Sinful people. Such people, by definition, do things wrong and even bring hurt and pain into the lives of others. This is very sad. It is very real. People get hurt in the Church.
People also get confused and frustrated in the Church. The Church has been known to make up its own rules from time to time that obscure the actual rules of God Himself and make it hard even to see His loving and forgiving nature shown to us in Jesus. This stinks. It’s caused lots of problems. The Church has caused lots of problems.
But. With all that said, the Church is actually God’s idea. Maybe it’s not supposed to look like it often does today, hidden away in mysterious buildings, sometimes obscured by strange speech, rituals and even dress. But the Church is still God’s thing. God’s people to be exact. And when the Church comes together, God Himself is there in a way that is special, unique and distinct from the way in which He is “there” when I hike a mountain, or kayak on a lake.
Jesus says that when two or more are gathered in His name, there He is with them. And again, Jesus tells us that when we eat His Supper, He is actually present, His body and blood shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. And the Word of God which is read and sung and preached among us—that Word is living and active; it is God Himself speaking to us even more clearly than He does through the beauty of the created world.
It’s sad that we can make such a mess of things that people wouldn’t want to be part of the Church anymore. That they’d rather be off by themselves doing things their own way. Because being off by ourselves and doing things our own way is not what we were created for. In fact, that can be very harmful. We need the Church. Because we need other people. More importantly, we need God who is revealed in a special way, in the midst of His people through His Word and in The Lord’s Supper.