A couple of weeks ago I attended an ordination service in east Tennessee. Loyd Allen, professor at McAfee School of Theology, brought the "charge" to the young woman who was being ordained. He presented some excellent comments, but one stuck in my mind. He said, "Love the church but don't worship the church." He reminded the candidate (and all of those present) that the full allegiance for the believer is to God alone. He was warning us that worship of the church can become an idol.
We may accept the fact that we are to love our spouse, or our children, or our work, and not to worship any of those, but can we accept that warning when it comes to the church? Are there times when we really seem to be worshipping the church?
I think we worship the church when we are not willing to acknowledge its failures. Failure is not bad, but if we do not learn from failure, we are missing an opportunity for growth. I think we worship the church when we allow church activities to take the place of time with God. Just because we are busy with "religious" things does not mean that we are about God's business. I think we worship the church when we make preservation of the church the primary motivation for serving the church. The church has survived a long time without me, and it will without me.
Allen also made the comment that "the church is not the kingdom but it witnesses to the kingdom." This is good missional church thinking. The church is part of God's kingdom, but it does not encompass all that God is doing in the world. The people of God need to be alert to all of the ways that God is acting for redemption and reconciliation in our time.
I love the church and have committed my life to "building up the body of Christ," but I must always remember that the church is not an end in itself and its work is ultimately in God's hands.