Is it “less Christian” to travel?
Posted on 4 Aug 2017 by Vanessa Ong
Perhaps some of you may have had your conscience pricked. “Is it right for me to travel away from the church for so long?” And maybe there are some of you who have never had your conscience pricked. “What’s wrong? I can just find an English-speaking gospel-preaching church in Spain right?”
Whenever I listen to jazz, I am brought back to the live gig in one of Europe’s oldest jazz spots. Just thinking back to that evening brings me the chills (you know, the shivers when you listen to awesome music?). It was pretty cool alright, as with all the other truly spectacular sights and sounds I’ve had the blessing of experiencing (I’ve shared my favourite moments in travel below) but truly truly I say to you, nothing beats being where you were re-created to be – God’s church doing His Son’s mission with the rest of His Spirit-filled disciples.
Earlier this year, while I was away for three long weeks riding trains and buses all over Spain, I didn’t get a chance to say this:
Dear CERC, I actually missed suffering for the gospel with you. No matter what I’m enjoying in God’s beautiful world – eating fresh tapas in Barcelona or having the time of my life SNOWBOARDING in Iran – I would almost always rather be with you, my dear church.
Hopefully this post will help you understand that I am not being merely sentimental when I say that.
In this too-short post, I hope to share how I am applying the theological truths we have been learning about church: The church is where God carries out His holy purposes and its expression is in the local body of believers. Christians, you and I are called to live in a heavenly reality expressed in the local body of believers. It’s where we truly belong, in terms of who we are and what God wants for His people (Ephesians 3:10). I share the same hope for this reflection as Jonathan Leeman’s hope for his fabulous book on church: I want us “to consider how belonging to a local church (and submitting to its discipline) should comprise the basic shape of the Christian life” (Page 74 of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love)
I am grateful to God for a church that helps me understand the gospel better by teaching me New Testament ecclesiology with its implications. Because of what I have been taught from Scripture and what various theologians like John Calvin think about the church, I can consider these when I travel:
- What is church? Is it a place that functions to benefit me or is the church something I am part of?
- How does Jesus want me to think about the local church? Does that affect how I spend my cash and time?
I think it is healthy and also natural in the Christian struggle to desire earnestly God’s goals. God’s goals are ecclesiological and eschatological.
Thoughts like “I want to be where I should be, where I was created to be” kept interrupting Spanish breakfasts and visits to art museums. I think the feeling like I was in the “wrong place” while being away from church mostly came from being taught New Testament eschatology with its implications. It has been the most invaluable lesson and what was really missing in my understanding of God’s gospel. Imagine me walking around the world-renowned Picasso Museum with a real tangible feeling of emptiness in my heart, a heaviness I don’t know how to describe as I recall Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Eschatology has taught me to think “What does the Bible say is the time in which I exist in?” “How does that time affect my choices for how I spend God’s time and God’s money?”
So, yes it is “less Christian” to travel (for extended periods of time) in the sense that a Christian should always be aspiring to be who they are in Christ and live according to the basic shape of the Christian life – a local church shape. Someone who is in Christ is not individualistic (“As long as I attend a church and listen to preaching for my soul, what’s wrong?”) or moralistic (“As long as I am not committing a sin, what’s wrong?”). The one who is in Christ belongs to Christ’s body and serves and loves a body, not in theory but in reality. How are we to practice “bearing with one another” (Col 3.13) if we don’t even commit to live and serve and do God’s mission together as Jesus’ workers who are saved by grace for His service?
Church membership and travel
It is definitely neither obedient or disobedient to Jesus to get on a plane and spend your time and money on things other than the local church. Being a committed member does not “imprison me” from travelling the world. In fact, church membership helps me apply who I already am and who I will be in Christ. It actually helps me think theologically and clearly (and definitely keeps me honest!) about my choices.
Although Christians are Christians by virtue of Christ’s work alone (SOLUS CHRISTUS, BABY! #Ref500), the Christian is called and expected to be… well, a Christian. A Christian loves Jesus and other Christians. In CERC, love for Jesus and each other takes the form of church membership, a structure that is “not artificially erected” but “an organic and inevitable outgrowth of Christ’s redemptive work and the gospel call to repentance and faith” (Taken from Jonathan Leeman’s Introduction to his book – find the Introduction free online here). With membership, I am able to think in concrete terms about where my Malaysian Ringgit is going to (The Russian economy or my church’s new building?), what my Saturdays will be spent on (The flea market in Central Barcelona or leading my university small group in reading Scripture?), who I am obligated to loving and serving (an Egyptian woman in the Evangelical Church of Cairo whom I can barely communicate with or my Malaysian peers struggling to make ends meet in this bad economy?).
And in all choices, I am challenged to consider which can be used better for God’s glory – to grow His church, to love and serve His people, and to do His mission. (Soli Deo Gloria!)
So, thank you CERC for being a church that tries its best to live out the gospel. Without your gospel teaching and gospel application, I would most certainly be following my favourite rock bands around Europe using whatever God-given money I can squeeze from my mum and be missing church for months on end.
Thanks mum for bringing me everywhere. I don’t think I could enjoy travelling the world with anyone else but you (Really! Really!). As you can see, travelling has truly taught me to appreciate Jesus, His church and His gospel more.
Also, a special shout out to 9 Marks and Jonathan Leeman for the great book that is teaching my church, CERC, to abound in being and doing who we are and who we will be. Keep doing great work for God!