Writings by Cole Huffman

How's It Going At Church?

“I see Him looking at them as they lay on the ground, with the poignant abandonment of sleeping men: mouths open, heads thrown back, features relaxed, limbs limp and inert. So vulnerable, so fragile, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Alas, no, not even that—looking at them as God has looked at His creatures through the eons; disappointment without end weighed against inexhaustible love.” (Malcolm Muggeridge)

I’m on Jeopardy! I’ve chosen “Potpourri” for $600, and the answer appears blue screen: “Sinners are there, and Christ is there, and the two mix horribly and wonderfully.” My buzzer is first. How’s it going at church? Trebek tells me I need to be more specific. What is First Evan? Correct!

I awaken. My show earnings paid for all five kids’ college educations. I was cleaning up. Shakespearean sonnets was not a category, but “in that sleep [of college tuition payers] what dreams may come.”

I don’t dream like that really, but I am often asked how things are at church. Usually it’s small talk. People aren’t looking for a reflective answer necessarily. But even the best of churches is, as I once heard it put, equal parts mystery and mess, and so an answer like sinners are there, and Christ is there, and the two mix horribly and wonderfully, seems to cover it in an economy of words.

Years ago someone said to me that First Evan is a “church of the well.” The point was we didn’t seem to be the safest place for those struggling with sins and doubts. It was a fair critique at the time and yet I don’t know that any church will always be safe. I think it’s generally recognized among us that transparency is a function of shared grace, and that there are burden bearers for everyone in every church, but we are a place of wounding and healing both, as was every church in the New Testament. Some leave us looking for the perfect church they know must be out there, the church where they won’t be disappointed relationally. That church doesn’t exist this side of New Jerusalem.

That’s not to shrug off what we don’t do well. But when I listen to some play up how great and exciting their church is, I know they’re talking about a brand they’ve created, not the bride. The bride of Christ is more like being married to Leah and Rachel at the same time. Sometimes the bride is like Ruth. Sometimes she’s Gomer.

“A bare sixty or seventy years after Pentecost we have an account of seven churches [Rev. 2-3] that shows about the same quality of holiness and depth of virtue found in any ordinary parish in America today,” writes Eugene Peterson in Under the Unpredictable Plant. “In two thousand years of practice we haven’t gotten any better. Every we time we open up a church door and take a careful, scrutinizing look inside we find them there again—sinners. Also Christ.” (24)

Also Christ. The best thing we have going for us. How’s it going at church? It’s going in the direction of residence in New Jerusalem in our glorified state. That gets construed as rapturous escapism but wakefulness to Jesus’ return is really about welcoming justice, when every wrong is put right. To Tolkienize it, it’s the day the great Shadow departs and everything sad comes untrue.

How’s it going at church? I can answer that inventorying our health and hospitality. I can list good things we’re doing in the city and around the world. But our buoyancy comes from a palpable sense of “as if not” (read 1 Cor. 7:29-31):

“Even when we are rightly developing faithful cultural expressions of art and music, even when we are digging wells in the Sahel and developing centers to help the homeless, even when we patiently and lovingly build solid marriages in line with God's disclosure of what marriage should be, even when we connect the use of our fiscal resources to kingdom priorities, the entire fabric of our current existence stands under God's as if not. We cannot, we must not, be entirely engrossed even in good things that God himself labels gracious gifts, if those gracious gifts are tied to an order that is passing away. If we learn this lesson well, we shall better understand what it means to lay up treasures in heaven.” (D. A. Carson)

Because Christ is among us, First Evan has a lot going for her now—and later—and I’ve never been more grateful for her. I see in us more progress than regress in the obedience of faith. We still have work to do in some areas. We have rest to do in others.

How’s it going at church? Sinners are there, and Christ is there, and the two mix horribly and wonderfully. It’s how it’s supposed to be for now. The church is the place we learn that whatever the disappointments, Jesus is not ashamed to call us His own. The church is the people inexhaustibly loved.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 3:09 PM
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