In Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of Red Death a dark tale is told of trying to escape deadly troubles of the world. In the story, Prince Prospero and his thousand stately friends welded themselves shut inside a castle with hope of keeping out the plague of Red Death. On the outside of the prince’s castle, common people were dying as the bloody plague ravaged with brutal force. The prince and his friends; however, naively thought they could keep Red Death out.
As the story unfolds, the prince and his royal court hold a lavish masquerade party. It is a party of excess with much dancing and revelry, all the while—outside the castle walls—people suffered, shrinking into death.
Then arrives a mysterious visitor dressed in grave clothes. It is the specter of death. The party stops. And starting with Prince Prospero, people slowly slip into quick death. The plague arrived; the walls could not keep Red Death out.
No body likes trouble. We try to avoid it like “the plague.” Unfortunately, the same fear that drives our desire to weld shut the gates, in order to dodge hardship, suffering and complicated circumstances, can also kill. This is a malady our churches must pay close attention to.
The temptation is to close up the doors of our churches, only letting certain types of safe people in … those who seem safe and uncomplicated. In such an environment, we enjoy the lavish riches of faith, reveling in them. It feels good to drink of faith with others who share common similarities. Yet, if the gate is closed to the masses of spiritually sick, confused, broken and the relationally messed up, the reveling can turn to a sort of spiritual “red death.”
Yes, death will come to our barricaded churches. It sneaks in and surprises us. Our churches panic when it arrives and often shrink into spiritual paralysis. Why? Because we forget that the doors of the church were never meant to be shut. There is no plague for the Church to run from. The Church is a castle with doors welded open, welcoming in everyone who lives in the messy conditions of our world.
What happens when the local church looks inward and never outward? It implodes. It dies spiritually. What happens when a church looks outward into the messy world? It thrives. It flourishes spiritually.
Sure, for a season a church community can feed upon itself. But such inward focus will eventually make a church like a waste dump if it never has interaction with the world outside. The Church is hard-wired to give to the world, love the world, share hope with the world, and provide an open-door oasis to the spiritually weary of the world. Our goal is to weld the doors of the church open and get out into a complicated and messy world.
This is our charge: “Get messy Church!”
Here’s the great news. There are some terrific churches out there doing this. They are getting messy. And as they interact with a world that needs help, people get a glimpse of God. The Church is God’s tool. So no matter how messed up we might think it is, God still chooses to use it to communicate the Gospel message. He keeps creating communities of faith that are jumping into the world, getting messy and loving people indiscriminately. The result … people hear about God and discover the hope-filled message of Jesus Christ.
Think about it. How do you look at churches? How many times have you evaluated a church based solely on what it can do for you? Switch it around … think in a new way about your part in church. How can you contribute towards a church’s purpose of getting messy in a complicated world that thirsts to hear a word of hope from God.
This raises another important issue for us to consider. In addition to the corporate nature of church, the individual people who make up each church (believers) are charged with jumping into the messy world. We are charged with opening the doors of our heart to embrace a complicated, confused and hurting world.
This article is not advocating that we trash the fellowship of believers. We certainly need time with our church community to recharge and be encouraged. This is essential, vital and biblical. But something is wrong when people see our fellowship and don’t feel like there is room for them to fit in with the Church.
Here are some tips for jumping in— opening your heart to the people of the world. First, don’t listen to fear. Where there is fear, there is no love (I John 4:18). Believers are called to love. Second, never disconnect. You and I need accountability. Whether a seasoned believer or new to faith, we need accountability and prayer support if we are going to interact with a messy world. Third, live a risky faith. Yes, if we associate with a messy world we run the risk of being tempted, challenged and spiritually being knocked around. That’s part of the challenge. Remember, to avoid a risky faith is like welding the doors of your heart shut. This equals death to your soul. Fourth, don’t give up on the Church. Remember, the Church is God’s choice tool for getting the word out about grace and love. It’s not perfect. In fact, the closer we look the more we will realize that Church is even messier than the world. Because God is at work in His Church, our lives reveal how messy things really are. He then works to transform our sin-filled lives into something beautiful. The Church is God’s beautiful instrument of grace, truth and spiritual transformation in the world.