A PLACE OF PAIN
A man from the town where I grew up refused to go to church, and he did not allow his children (one of them a good friend of mine) to go either. Being a small town, people talked. “Why would he do that? Something must have happened.” I could see this family suffering in silence.
They are not alone. “Church” is often viewed skeptically – in some cases understandably so. That “entity”, that “organization”, that “club” – has sometimes been experienced as a place of hurt rather than healing. Or as a place of preference rather than purpose, resulting in unnecessary conflict, chaos and pain.
A PLACE OF PURPOSE
Disappointment always sets in when a wrong understanding and/or unrealistic expectations about something is held. This is no less true regarding the church. If I view the church as a place that exists for me, to meet my needs, to help me … or that everyone there should be perfect … then I will be disappointed when my expectations are not met. While things like meeting needs is partly true of the church’s mandate, it is not its primary purpose or reason for existence. We need a solid, biblical understanding of what “church” is!
WHAT IS CHURCH?
Craig Van Gelder wrote that the church is “… the called and redeemed people of God … a people of God who are created by the Spirit to live as a missionary community.” (The Essence of the Church, p.25)
Carey Nieuwhof said, “… If you’re a Christian, church is not something you go to. It’s something you are. You can’t disassociate from church as a Christian anymore than you can disassociate from humanity as a person. You don’t go to church. You are the church.” (A Response To Christians Who Are Done With Church, June 12, 2015.
So the question should not be “What is Church?” but rather “WHO is the Church?” … and “Why do WE exist? What is the purpose that GOD has for us?” This is a completely different way of viewing the church.
As God’s “called and redeemed” (1 Cor.1:2; Eph.1; Col.1:13-14) … not perfect people, but sinners saved by His grace … we have been described (by God) in these ways:
BIBLICAL METAPHORS FOR THE CHURCH
- The Body of Christ: (Rom.12:4-5; 1 Cor.10:17; 12:12; Eph.1:23; 3:6 4:1-16,25; 5:23; Col.1:24; 3:15)
- The Bride of Christ: (Eph.5:21-33; 2 Cor.6:18; 11:12; Rev.19:7-8; 21:9)
- The Family of God: (Matt.12:49-50; Eph.2:19; 3:14; Gal.6:10; 1 Tim.3:5; 5:1)
- God’s Household, God’s Building, God’s Temple: (1 Cor.3:11,16; 6:19; Eph.2:11-22; 1 Tim.3:15; 1 Pet.2:5-7
- A Holy Nation, A Royal Priesthood, The People of God: (1 Pet.2; Rev.1:6)
- God’s Flock: (Acts 20:28-30; Jn.21:15-17; Heb.13:20; 1 Pet.5:1-4)
Furthermore, as God’s “called and redeemed” body, bride, family, household, nation, priesthood, people and flock, He has told us why we exist:
BIBLICAL MANDATES FOR THE CHURCH
o To declare the praises of God: (Col.3; Heb.12:28)
o To make God known: (Eph.3:10-11; Col.1:25-27; 2 Tim.4:5)
- We do this by (functional mandates)
o Praying (Col.4:2; James 5:16)
o Studying the Word of God: (Col.3:16; 2 Tim.2:15; 4:2)
o Growing spiritually: (2 Thess.1:3)
o Developing & exercising the spiritual gifts that God has given us for the benefit of others: (Eph.4, Rom.12; 1 Cor.12-14)
o Being a caring community:
- Sharing with those in need, building others up, administering the sacraments of baptism, communion and marriage
- Fulfilling the “One Anothers” of Scripture: (serve, love, be hospitable, pray for, comfort, confess sins, etc.)
- To exhort, encourage, rebuke and correct (1 Thess.2:12; 2 Tim.4:2; Titus 2:15)
The Apostle Paul wrote that God “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Timothy 1:9). Church, ultimately, is not about us! It’s about God fulfilling His purposes and redemptive reign in the world that He created, employing the people that He called and redeemed to perpetuate that purpose.
A POSITIVE PLACE
So, does it matter if I go to belong to the church? Absolutely! To cut myself off from God’s body, to remove myself from His family, to wander away from His flock … as imperfect as it is … would not only amount to spiritual suicide, but it would be in direct opposition to His plan and purpose for my life and, ultimately, His kingdom. That’s why Hebrews 10:25 says, “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.” That’s why Jesus Himself wrote “letters to the churches” (Revelation 2-3). Church matters! The church is God’s Plan A … and there is no Plan B!
Jesus said, “… I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matt.16:18)
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)
A Response To Christians Who Are Done With Church — Carey Nieuwhof
The Church in God’s Plan — John MacArther
Being The Body — Charles Colson
The Essence of the Church — Craig Van Gelder
The Church — Edmond Clowney