Pope Francis recently wrote: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
A challenge to all Christians, don’t you think? How often are we (as institutions and individuals) motivated more by our own security than God’s command to get our hands dirty?
Have you ever heard of Deacon Lawrence in Rome? In the year 257, Emperor Valerian confiscated church property and declared that Christians were forbidden to gather. Many church leaders were beheaded.
The Roman prefect demanded that Lawrence hand over all “the treasure of the church.” Lawrence said that it would take him three days to gather it. He quickly hid as much of the church’s property as he could. On the third day, he gathered the sick, the widows, the orphans, and the poor outside the prefect’s window. When he appeared before the prefect, Lawrence pointed to the crowd outside and said, “These are the treasure of the church.”
It is unfortunate that in the centuries after this incident, so much money has been spent on making our churches bigger, fancier, more comfortable. Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox—all have been guilty of this. Guilty of making “the treasure of the church” our buildings and programs.
A little more from Pope Francis: “More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.'”
I remember seeing a megachurch with five baseball diamonds on the church property. They had a huge softball league of church members playing other church members. I wonder what opportunities for relational evangelism in their city they have missed?
John Piper has said: “To be a Christian is to move toward need, not comfort.”
I know you like to stay in your comfort zone. So do I. But, as long as God’s people do that, we offer no comfort to those who need it. Jesus left His comfort zone, and so must we.
He is so other-centered that He left comfort behind, knowing pain and death were ahead. He was willing to do it for you. If you bear His name as a Christ-follower, He is calling you (and your church) to be increasingly other-centered while your concern for your own safety and comfort decrease.