The Sox are in the ALCS right now. I don’t like to give current events in my posts as that allows people to figure out that I only write once in a great while, but damn it, I’m doing it this time, because I’m proud of the bearded men! One of the cool things about the Red Sox is that they have a pretty respectable nationwide fan base. Did you know they call The Baltimore Orioles’ field Fenway South? That’s because when the Sox play the O’s about half the crowd are loyal to the Boston boys. When Papi hits a homerun in Tampa and you hear the crowd cheering you get the same impression. I say all this to lead up to a point, it may be somewhat belabored and forced just so I can give props to our “Worst to First” team, but I think it is a worthwhile point: Red Sox Nation is not defined by anything but their love of the Boston Red Sox. They can be from anywhere, they can be men, women, children, elderly, drunks, monks, drunk monks. Nothing restricts you from the club except a lack of interest in the Red Sox. You don’t get in because your parents are Sox fans, you don’t get booted because your kids like the Yankees (although your parenting skills may be questioned). To be part of Red Sox Nation you need only love the Red Sox.
Now lets talk about churches. Churches have rules, they have covenants, they have stuff you have to sign. I know at the churches I’ve been at you had to take classes and get voted in. You may say that all these things are necessary because being part of a church is of much greater importance than being a fan of a sport. Sure, I’ll give you that it is probably a bit more meaningful than rooting for your favorite team, but that isn’t really the point I’m addressing here. What I wonder about is how a group is defined. What makes a particular group a particular group and not another group. What makes a person a member of that group? Because those things, those defining regulations and rules and such, those are what the group holds to be central to who they are. This leads me, through a very badly constructed argument, to the big question: what is it that should define a church? What is it that you think should define the church you are a part of? What’s in these covenants and contracts and classes? If we say that just following Jesus is enough, then why is all that necessary? Is it because we think we know the right way to follow Jesus? How often you tithe and how often you take communion and what you think about sovereignty and soteriology and all that. Are you so convinced that you, or a group of you and your buddies knows the right way to follow Jesus? I wouldn’t be so bold. I am pretty arrogant, but that’s a little much, even for me.
The other element of this is what exactly makes one a member of a particular church? To be a member of Red Sox Nation you need simply love the Red Sox. When you go to a game at Camden Yards you are essentially a member of Red Sox Nation gathered at Camden Yards. When you go home to Boston later in the week and go to a game at Fenway you are gathered with Red Sox Nation there as well. Are you more officially a member of either gathering? Are you disloyal to either for going to the other? Of course not. The more places you go, the more games you gather at the more you show your love of the team, the defining trait of being a member. I mean, hell, when you go down to the local sports bar to put down a pitcher of Sam Adams Boston Lager and watch the Sox destroy the Rays, you are a member of the gathering of Red Sox Nation there too!
Churches don’t work exactly like this. You aren’t really allowed to just be part of the group that you are around. You may be allowed to be a guest if you visit family out of town and stop by their church, but if you don’t gather with one group consistantly week to week at the designated meeting place, you are considered a church hopper and somehow, unlike going to all the Red Sox games wherever you can making you a bigger fan, this somehow makes you a less mature, less serious Christian.
Obviously this isn’t a perfect comparison, but the point is no less legitimate for the illustration. Your church is defined by what they say makes them a seperate group. If it is the building they meet in, or the rules they follow, that is what that group is, and often what that group is, is not as simple as a bunch of people who follow Jesus.