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Where’s the Church, Marty?

By Joshua Harris
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #11, 1996.

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Joshua Harris


In 1955 Ernest Borgnine won an Oscar for his portrayal of a plain-looking but likable guy named Marty. The story is so true to life that it would bore movie audiences today—no murder, no sex, no explosions.

It’s a love story centering around two wall flowers who fall in love with each other in spite of their society’s “pin-up” ideals. But as I watched the film, I saw more than a story of true loving triumphing over adversity; I saw the sad story of people walking through their lives without the church.

First there’s Marty, a slightly overweight butcher who at age 34 is still unmarried. Each day after work he divides his evening between his bachelor pals at the local diner and his widowed Italian mother whom he lives with. His mother’s favorite question: “Why dontcha find a nice girl, Marty?”

But Marty has resigned himself to being alone. He’s been hurt too many times to go out looking anymore. He can’t bear to spend another night at the dance hall being rejected by girls.

You don’t really pity Marty; he doesn’t waste time feeling sorry for himself. What’s depressing is the meaninglessness of the world he moves in. He has nowhere to serve, no environment in which his tender heart and compassionate spirit can be appreciated by others. Yes, Marty goes to Mass on Sundays, but he’s missing a body of believers encouraging, challenging and loving him. Marty doesn’t have a church.

His circle of single friends is similarly handicapped. They are the picture of wasted life. The smoke-heavy air at the diner carries mundane conversations about the best spots to meet girls and plans for the evenings that never pan out.

“So whadda ya wanna do?”

“I don’t know, whadda you feel like doin?”

“Let’s play cards.”

“Naaah, we always play cards.”

“Let’s go down to 72nd and meet some dolls.”

“Naaah, too far.”

“So whadda ya wanna do?”

“I don’t know, whadda you feel like doin?”

And on and on it goes.

Concerned solely with their own immediate needs, they waste another evening dreaming up the next thrill. No direction, no community—no church.

Another character in the movie is Marty’s aunt Catarina. She comes to live with Marty and his mother after being “kicked out” of her son’s home. “These are the worst years of a mother’s life” she states like a martyr. Though she’s a hard-nosed woman, her plea is a sad one. She wants to be useful. She wants to cook and clean for her family. But now her husband is dead and her children are grown. She annoys her daughter-in-law.

She feels useless.

Though in a very different season of life, Catarina faces the same problem as the lazy bachelors hanging out at the diner. She needs a family larger than that of her now grown children. She needs a family that can connect her to the young mother who would love the extra help of a grandma around the house. She needs a family that would put her still skillful hands to work serving others. She needs the church.

The church. We take it for granted, but what a glorious thing it is. With all of its mistakes and blunders throughout the centuries, it marches on. Though the fiery darts have fallen, the gates of hell have not prevailed.

The church, that idea formed in the mind of God. That incredible institution, not merely of bricks and stone, but of living breathing humans, making up what the Apostle Paul described as the “Body of Christ”; an organism compromised of individuals who each have a unique, vital role to play.

God planned for the church to harness the energy of the single adult and direct it into worship and service in His kingdom. The church was supposed to care for the widow and unite her with useful service in families. But for Marty and his friends, the church was missing.

I believe God has a special purpose for homeschool families. But if we take for granted the uniqueness and importance of God’s church we’ll end up like the characters in the movie: disconnected, alone and not even sure what’s missing in our lives.

God has blessed and continues to bless the home school “movement” with its radical approach to education and the family. But if the independence and free-spirit of this movement moves us away from the Body of Christ, we’re headed in the wrong direction.

The challenging new approaches to child training, education, and even courtship found among home schoolers will only have a lasting affect for God’s Kingdom if they’re shared within the larger community of God’s church.

Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The Body of Christ needs our revolutionary outlook on the role of the family. And with all our self-reliance the fact is that we need them, too.

Joshua Harris is the editor of New Attitude, the Christian magazine for home-school teens. He’s currently working on his first book entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Drop him a note at New Attitude, P.O. Box 249, Gresham, OR 97030. Internet: DOIT4JESUS@AOL.COM


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