If I were a first century pastor, I think one of the most difficult ideas Jesus communicated was that he “did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” Honestly, what does that mean? On the one hand, it seems relatively straightforward. To fulfill the law you keep the law. But Jesus didn’t always do that. He broke Sabbath by eating and healing. He touched those who would make him unclean only to make them clean. He didn’t just keep the law. So maybe Jesus was just talking about fulfilling the spirit of the law. Which makes complete sense when you talk about touching hurting people and making them whole on a Sabbath afternoon. But then Jesus would tell them to go and “sin no more” and suddenly we find ourselves back at working to keep the law.
Honestly, fulfilling the law is much harder than keeping the law.
Fulfilling the law is much harder than abolishing the law.
It is a well known fact, so I don’t think I need to go into a lot of detail: Marriages in America are in trouble. Divorce rates are up. Less and less people are getting married. The institution as a whole is questioned by more and more people. Outside of the tax benefits and the whole public proclamation of one’s love for another, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to believe in marriage.
And yet I do.
I got married.
My wife and I work very hard at our marriage. With all the statistics and anecdotal evidence surrounding us, we want to make our marriage work. We want to fulfill the very best of what a marriage can be. There is something beautiful about two people committing to one another in the best and worst of times for their entire lives. Even the Hollywood portrayal of marriage, or at least of a good relationship, that occurs at the end of every Jennifer Aniston movie is good. To be best friends and partners. To laugh and cry. To let raw authenticity inform our words to one another.
I want that.
More than that, I want to fulfill that in my marriage.
According to the statistics, things don’t look good for the church and for the millennials. Over the last couple of weeks the internet has flown back and forth with hypothesis’s and stories to explain the statistics. “The church is failing here.” “Millennials are just more consumers.” “We need more rap in church.”
Some have argued we need a revolution.
But maybe we just need to fulfill church.
You see, we are images of Jesus. The spirit of Jesus lives in us. So the one who said, “I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law,” lives in us. Maybe it is time for us to say, “I did not come to abolish the church, but to fulfill it.”
To fulfill the manifold wisdom of God being displayed to the universe. (Ephesians 3:10-11)
To fulfill each member belonging to the other. (Romans 12:3-5)
To fulfill being ministers of reconciliations (2:Corinthians 5:16-21)
To fulfill being bound together in unity. (Colossians 3:14-16)
To fulfill being a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
I wonder how the church might be different if we were less concerned with the model of church and more concerned about what we were fulfilling. I wonder how open to change we would be if we focused on what we were fulfilling and weren’t fulfilling. I wonder how quick to abandon and give up on church we would be if we were more concerned with fulfilling the church.
I’m not naive enough to think that these is going to change a lot. People will have different ideas about what it means to fulfill being the church. But I believe this is where the conversation needs to be. Nothing will change if we focus on the systemic problems that don’t matter. Not really. Because the systemic problems are not the real problem. The issue is that we may have lost sight of what our true goal is.
The goal of the church is not to fill its doors with millennials. The goal of the church is to be a light in the darkness.
The goal of the church is not to musically cater to multiple generations at one time. The goal of the church is to add flavor to the earth (be salty).
The goal of the church is not to be non-consumeristic. The goal of the church is to be the body of Christ.
The minute we stop focusing on what is most important is the moment we stop being relevant. So the conversation we should be having is not, “Why are millennials leaving?” but rather, “What does it mean to fulfill being the church?”
We engage that conversation and everything else will take of itself.