My first car was a Toyota 4×4 pickup truck, and I loved it so much. It had a stick shift, extended cab, and locking hubs…do you remember locking hubs? In some older trucks the “4×4 function” did not automatically engage, so you had to actually get out of your car and turn a little knob on the center of your wheels to “lock in 4×4.” Oh, them good ol’ days.
Any truck owner knows that one of the best parts of having a truck is taking it 4-wheelin’. It had taken a while for me to get up the nerve to go that first time, and when I finally did – I was so disappointed. My truck couldn’t get through anything. It was getting stuck in little baby mud puddle. I kept thinking to myself, “What’s wrong with my truck? This isn’t how it’s supposed to work!” Then I remembered that I had forgotten to lock the hubs.
That made all the difference. Duh.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Church lately, and recently I was reminded of this story – because the church doesn’t seem to be working the way it’s supposed to work right now. We’re out there in the mud but we keep getting stuck. Is the church broken? Did we forget to do something?
When the Apostle Paul was out on the campaign trail, forming new churches and then writing letters back to them there was one thing that was perfectly clear – this was going to be difficult work. The earliest churches were. a. mess. and Paul’s letters reflect that clearly.
In each of these places, the new message of Jesus was attracting a wide variety of people from all sorts of backgrounds. There were Gentiles, Jews, rich folks, poor folks, people in power, and even slaves – all coming together to form a new community, to walk together as family, and to support and care for one another in the name of Jesus. These folks would have had vastly different life experiences, disparate values and worldviews, polarizing political beliefs and affiliations, and maybe most glaring – incredibly different social statuses.
But yet – they did it. Why? Because that’s exactly what the church was designed for. Paul was teaching them how, and we can see that his letters were not so much about theology as they were about ecclesiology, or basically just how to do church. Paul tells them that “there is no Jew or Gentile, no slave nor free, no male nor female but you are all one in Christ.” You guys, this was HUGE.
He is saying that in this new church community there will be no hierarchy, no social status, no divisions – but everyone is equal and joined together. Take off what you thought defined you, because it holds no value here.
Sidenote: Can you imagine how difficult this would have been for wealthy Gentile males? They had all the social power outside of the church, but in the church they were being asked to treat the female slave, someone they may have previously struggled to even see as human, as their equal – to follow her lead, to listen to her voice, to recognize her leadership. Because they “are one” in this new fellowship. This was no sweet little suggestion from Paul for a “kumbaya” moment, this was a firm directive for a radical shift in thought and behavior.
The way the church was designed to work was this: you came in, you sat down at a table with those that were vastly different from you, and you shared a meal together – this was the Eucharist meal – you were sharing the broken body of Christ and the blood of Christ with and among each other. At this table you would listen to one another and be listened to, forgive one another and be forgiven, commit to the other people’s flourishing and they to yours…you would essentially put your social differences aside and enter into an egalitarian community of mutual respect and support.
This isn’t just an idyllic picture of the church, it is literally what the church was designed for. To bridge the gaps in a culture that was divided and torn – where policies, power, worldviews, and social structures broke up families and communities, separated the rich from the poor, and kept the powerful in power and the weak, weak. The only thing that worked to bring these people together was the church.
So, here’s the big question: If the church was designed to work in a culture just like ours – why isn’t it working now?
What if I told you that it isn’t politics or power structures or culture that is dividing us – but it’s actually the church?
Just think about it…What institution is more unapologetically blatant than the church about determining who gets to be a part and who doesn’t? Who can lead and who can’t? We are pulling chairs away from our table and curating our guest lists so the only folks that are invited are just “like us”. The church was designed to be the solution to division, not a shining example of it. We have become the enemy that we were meant to transform.
So, what do we do with that??
Sometimes when something seems overwhelming, like I don’t know maybe the idea of undoing two-thousand years of harm and corruption and abuse that the church has perpetrated on the world, it’s helpful to think a simple thought like, “what’s the next step?” Just do the next thing, and the rest will become clear as you move forward.
I believe that as a church, the next step is really simple: eat together.
(I don’t know about you but I’m one hundred percent on board with that, I’ll bring the BBQ)
If we are going to recover, we are going to have to start eating together again and listening to one another again, and be willing to value each other – even if we disagree. Perhaps especially if we disagree.
Dinner church is the ancient solution to our future thriving. And this can take a variety of forms. You’re all eating several times a day, every day, why not do some of it together? In our church we eat together a lot –
Every few months we have an old-fashioned potluck after church. Excuse my millenial slang but our church slays a potluck. Hundreds stay and eat at little round tables with ugly blue chairs. Nobody cares about the chairs – they sit around a table and discover each other for the first time.
Once a month we all head to a local restaurant for brunch after church. We bombard the place and people sit across from each other and do what is most natural to us all – eat. We realize that we have more in common that ever realized. Friendships are made. Walls are torn down in no time over bacon. #baconrocks
A few times a year we organize dinner parties and people are randomly assigned to show up with 10-12 others for a dinner at someone’s home. Gay and straight, white and African-American and Latino, all crowding in someone’s home for dinner where people come reluctantly and then stay far too long in all the best ways.
None of these things are hard to pull off. You just have to do it.
Yes, the church is broken right now in America. No doubt about it. We are broken because we think we are too busy to take the time to eat together. We are broken because we are unwilling to sit across and eat with people who may be vastly different from us. We are broken because our churches look more like the world than the church – and this has nothing to do with morality – but everything to do with social status. We have married our ideologies and worldviews instead of being the bride of Christ. We have left no room at the table for our neighbor who thinks differently than us.
The church was designed to foster deep and life-changing relationships among people who are vastly different. There’s still hope – I haven’t given up. But the church has caused this mess in society and the only way we are going to get out of it is with the church’s help.
So, I say, let’s eat friends!
I mean, let’s not eat our friends – but let’s eat with our friends and with our enemies and with those we think we could never have anything in common with and then realize we do, and can, and are.
Lock those hubs, church. We were designed for exactly this!