In Part 1 we looked at three common ways we talk about “church” that are very different from the way that the church is described in Scripture. The Bible never tells us to “go to church” or to “attend church.” Let’s take a closer look at what the NT tells us about the church.
The church is the community of Jesus followers
We don’t “go to” church because we are the church. The building is just a place where the church gathers. In Acts 2:42-47 we see the beginnings of the church. They met in each other’s homes as well as in a public meeting area at the Jewish temple. It wasn’t until the fourth century, after the end of Roman persecution, that the church was able to own buildings. At some point people began to use the word “church” to refer to a building, but that wouldn’t have happened for at least the first several centuries of Christian history.
What would our modern churches look like if we did not own any buildings? What would we need to change? How would we even function? We would probably meet in homes (like small group meetings) and perhaps rent a public meeting space to gather for Sunday worship. I’m not saying that we should get rid of all our buildings, but we need to stop thinking of the building as the central and most important feature of the church.
The church is the body of Christ
The church is a living organism with Christ as the head. Each “body part” (the meaning of “member” in 1 Cor. 12) is connected to and dependent on the others. Each part has an important role to play in the life of the Body. The body is most healthy when all its members are fulfilling their proper role.
Being a Christian is so much more than attending a weekly event. It is being integrated into the body of believers and serving to care for each other and to fulfill the mission of the Body in the world. There are many different spiritual gifts described in the Bible, but “audience” is not one of them. Every Christian is called to active participation in our spiritual community life. Simply “attending church” is not enough.
The church is sent into the world to make disciples
If you have been a Christian for any length of time you are undoubtedly familiar with the “Great Commission” in Mat. 28:19-20. We are a people with a mission. Christ has sent us into the world to make disciples. The church exists for the sake of its non-members.
The church exists for the sake of its non-members.
At this point we often experience a tension as church leaders. Jesus commanded us to love one another. We know that caring for each other is an important part of the Christian life. Sometimes people will say that we have too many needs, and we need to concentrate on caring for each other right now and we can do outreach later on. The problem is that “later on” never comes, because there will always be more needs. I’m sure that the people in the first century church had lots of needs as well. Some of them probably had needs more desperate then our own. That did not stop them from reaching out.
I’m not saying that we should ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters. Caring for each other is an important part of living out the life of Jesus. But I can’t find anywhere in the Bible that indicates that this is our primary mission. Instead, we should care for one another as we go out together into the world to make disciples.
It’s like a football team. On a good team, the players have a close relationship and care for each other. But that is not their primary job. Their primary job is to play football. If they do a good job of caring for each other but a lousy job of playing football, then they are a failure as a football team. If we do a good job of caring for each other but do not make disciples, we fail in our primary mission as a church.
Do those sound like harsh words? We are deeply influence by our consumer culture, and have unconsciously accepted a “consumer Christianity.” It’s all about having our needs met. We have little room for Christ’s call to “deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me” (Mk. 8:34). We need to return to the teaching of the NT about what it means to follow Jesus.
Be the church!
These are familiar passages to many of us. But the language we use about the church reveals that we are deeply influenced by other, unbiblical ideas about the church. How can we shift our thinking and our practice to be the church that Christ has called us to be?
Be the church
Being the church does not mean that it is not important to meet together. Next time I will share some thoughts about the value of Sunday worship. Meanwhile, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.