I find church inseparable

Though I’d love to have a beautiful garden, I have neither the time nor the inclination to put in the effort required to achieve rolling beds of colour. In our current garden we have a small patch of dirt in the corner that is largely neglected. Last year I did put in a couple of afternoons of weeding and then planted Poundland seeds and bulbs. The results were pretty much what you’d expect from a total spend of £4.95- far from luscious.

During a recent warm spell I returned to this patch of dirt to find that over the year an abundance of grass and dandelions had infiltrated the flowers I’d planted the year previous. So I put Miss T in the shade on a blanket, got out my gardening fork and gloves, and got to work clearing out the weeds.

The only problem was that as I pulled out the grass I inadvertently pulled out the flowers I was hoping to keep. Over the course of the year the weeds had entwined themselves with the good plants. Even when this wasn’t visible above the surface it was occurring underground, their roots had become inseparable.

Jesus knew this, Jesus knew about weeds.

In Matthew 13:4-30 this encounter occurs:

‘ He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Within the evangelical wing of the church we place a high importance on the state of your salvation. Are you repentant? Are you saved? Are you in?

We want to know, have you prayed ‘the prayer?’ And while the good evangelical in me knows that these are important and pertinent questions to ask, this emphasis leads to us to ask another set of questions: Who’s in? Who’s out?

The challenge of worshiping within the Church of England is that, being the national church, we will inevitably have members of our congregation who are not regenerate, who are not bearing the fruit of a new life in Christ. All denominations experience this but I think this is a particular issue for more establish denominations.

There will be those who come for the choral music, for the bells, because their gran is buried in the churchyard. When we are seeking a pure church we too easily discount these members of our congregations as not being ‘in’ and instead they are ‘out’.

We think that the Church here on earth ought to only include those who are heaven bound. We’ve clearly forgotten to read Augustine!

In his City of God, Augustine outlines the image of two cities, the City of God and the Earthly city. The city you dwell in is determined by the focus of your love; love of self or love of God. The cities are not physical places but exist in the here & now alongside each other, almost indistinguishable.

Who’s in and who’s out? These are not simple questions to ask.

It’s not as simplistic to say that the city of God is the Church. Augustine’s image is similar to that is Matt 25:31-33:

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.’

Middle-eastern sheep and goats are barely distinguishable to anyone but shepherds. And like the sheep and the goats, those who are citizens of the City of God live alongside those who are citizens of the Earthly city.

If we attempt to separate or purify our church based on our earthly wisdom it will inevitably lead to the suffering and hurt of those who are mistakenly judged as ‘out’ when they are actually ‘in’.

I find church inseparable, it’s hard to tell who’s in the fold and who’s not but Jesus knew this and he instructs us to let the church grow together, flowers and weeds, until the day he separates us out.

 

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