St. Augustine said something like "The church is a whore, but she is my mother." I love that. We are a collection of hypocrites, liars, self-centered narcissists, and subject to all the same sins and mental illnesses -- plus a few additional ones -- as is the world at large. Anyone who attempts to participate in authentic community in any local church will end up frustrated and angry and hurt many many times. But, nevertheless, it is in participation in authentic community with all those sinners in any local church that God pours out His Spirit. By holding myself apart from all the frustration and anger and hurt that sinners bring to my life, I hold myself apart from the biggest way Jesus wants to reveal Himself to me daily. By subjecting myself to all those "screwed-up people", I have the opportunity to move past how "screwed up" I am . . . . and be His instrument to bring the change and growth He wants to bring to each of them, even as He uses them to bring that change and growth to me.
The local church is PEOPLE. Indeed, the global church is PEOPLE. And we do all need individually to pray in solitude and to study scriptures and life separately from each other and to fast and to meditate and to live individual lives "practicing the presence of God." Our private, pietistic, mystic spirituality is core to authentic relationship with the God Who loves us -- God the Father Who chose us and Who purposes everything for our good and for His glory, Jesus our God Who reveals the Father to us and Who executes His purposes even as He intercedes for us minute by minute out of His love for us, and the Spirit of God Who indwells us and directs us and empowers us for the life that is abundant and for the renewed relationships with the three-fold Him and with each other and with ourselves and with the world He created . . .
. . . But just as much as we need all the private disciplines and private connection with our Great God, we also need our corporate means of living before Him and with Him. "Living before Him and with Him" requires that we authentically live before each other and with each other. There is room for privacy and solitude, but not the room our early-21st-century evangelical culture gives to our ideals of privacy and solitude. If my "conscious contact with a higher power" is birthed in privacy and lived out in privacy, it is a spirituality that may serve to accomplish my will and purposes in my life. It may give me the resources internally to accomplish all my own visions and hopes, even. But, in the end, it will birth nothing that will last beyond my grave.
When I submit to other sinners in a community of faith, and when I live my life openly before them so that they even know clearly that I am still a sinner (although redeemed), then I find the doors opening to a life that goes beyond my vision for life, and even a life that goes beyond their vision for life. The vision for life that is from our Lord is a vision that must be birthed in community. The full, abundant life that Jesus promised was promised with an admonition that we must love one another. And real love is not theoretical. Real love shows up. Real love gets hurt. Real love gets embarrassed. Real love gets angry. And real love -- empowered by the Spirit in us, not from our own visions or wills or emotions -- leads us into authentic forgiveness and authentic change.
I thank God for the people in my life at St. Andrews, and for all the people there not in my life so much but in the lives of the people who are in my life. The Holy Spirit is just as interested in each of us as He was in each of the members of the early church communities we read about in Acts. He is just as able to do powerful things that move His Global Church forward. And He is just as able to make us screwed-up sinners love each other.
Praise to the Triune God!