Something I hear periodically is that we need to go outside the church if we want to be where God is moving. Other permutations: We need to get out of our box (church building); God isn’t moving in the church, He’s moving outside.
I don’t disagree with these sentiments. God is moving outside the church. We haven’t cornered the market on Jesus by any means.
But this is half a truth. My wife and I are called to the church. We see anemic spirituality, legalism, other gospels and Jesus-es, whitewashing, pat answers, and famished hearts. Don’t get me wrong. We also see the beauty of the Lord, people giving themselves as lovers to their beloved, and much to rejoice in. But we need a lot of work. We still need God to move in the church. To minimize this betrays a paltry vision of Jesus and our relationship with Him
In Luke 14:15-24, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast. The master invites a bunch of people but they all excuse themselves for various reasons. So the master tells his servants, “Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled.”
Our Master, Jesus, certainly tells us to go out. His Spirit moves us to reach out to non-Christians, to make a difference in the world. God doesn’t hoard His goodness inside the walls of the church. The church is meant to spill out like a cornucopia.
But going out has a reason: to make them *come in* that the Lord’s house may be full. This doesn’t mean getting people to a building or a Sunday service, per se. It means bringing them into a wedding feast. When we go out we bring samples so that people will come to the full meal. The church is the bride of Christ, the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 21:9). We are to be a community experiencing festal union with our Husband (Eph. 5:29-30). We are to bring others into this satiating commitment.
If going out is our whole focus, what are we bringing people into? Sometimes the church is little more than slick marketing. We are like so many fast food joints: Millions spent on glossy ads of smiling actors downing scrumptious looking food. But when people come we hand them a crappy cheese burger. Jesus said even evil fathers don’t give their sons a snake when they ask for a fish (Luke 11:11). Maybe we could learn something from those evil fathers 😉
The Shulamite in Song of Solomon said she kept the vineyards of others but hadn’t kept her own. Her husband saw her as a garden where he could gather spices, honey, milk–all the things that satisfied and thrilled his heart (SoS 5:1). Solomon means “peaceful.” Through him we can hear the Prince of Peace speaking purpose to us. We are His garden and exist for His satisfaction first. Tending other vineyards while neglecting our own is neglecting our Husband’s satisfaction.
So let’s go out but not forget the purpose of going out. The church’s inner life should be richer than her outer life. Otherwise, what Jesus said to God’s people in His day applies: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13).