“We believe that the Church is Christ’s symbolic body in the earth (Colossians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 12:27), and that it should reveal His character, His message, and His love to the world. We believe that the Church is to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples. This will lead people to have fellowship with God (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15,16) and community with others (1 Corinthians 12:13).”
- from the CLG Statement of Faith
I (Karl Meszaros) was somewhat surprised to be the guy to speak on this subject. I’ve been a Christian for roughly 16 years. I came to Christ in a very logical fashion. I basically read myself in. I started with the creation; I then read about how we got the Bible. Finally, I ended with studying about the nature of God. Reading really helped with many theological things.
God the father was a fairly easy for me to understand. He seemed like a black and white kind of guy, so there was no problem there. Jesus was also not a problem for me. The idea that God took human form and became one of us was a powerful concept. The Holy Spirit was a little more difficult as there are more debates on the work and the person of the Holy Spirit. However, I was able to work through my issues there as well.
While all this paid dividends, it didn’t help me too much with understanding the church. I became a Christian when I was 28. Because I wasn’t raised in the church my ideas about who and what they were. My view was that they were more like the Amish in the movie Witness. When I was around Christians, I found that they weren’t these perfect little people. I found myself agreeing with Nietzsche when he said, “I would believe in their salvation if they looked a little more like people who have been saved”.
The more I was around Christians, the more they let me down, the more I questioned the value of the church. Given today’s technology and sheer amount of material available, I began to wonder why I even need the church. What’s the point; what possible value could it have?
Does it feel like I jumped into the middle of a sermon? Did you notice where I started? I started at what is the value of the church to me? We do this with several church things: Am I being fed? Do I like the music style? Do I like the programs? We start at ‘me’ and not at Jesus. I would like to put forth that we often get into theological trouble when we start with ‘I’ and not Jesus. With that in mind, I would like to clear our heads of our preconceived notions of what the church is and what it means. Let’s begin where the church started…with Jesus
Jesus and the Church
The first time we see ‘church’ show up in the Bible is Matthew 16:18. There we read (beginning in verse 13):
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
There are many things that we can say about this passage, but I want to focus on the word “church.” The word in Greek is ekkelsia. It literally means ‘assembly’. The word originally was used for civil or political purposes. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, ekkelsia was used for Israel. In Acts 19, the word is twice used to describe a mob and once for a voting group. If you were writing in Greek, you could use the word for any group of people.So what we have here is this: Jesus is going to build a new group of people.
What’s the Point of the Church?
So now we have the meaning, but what are supposed to do with it? Many theologians look at the Church as a convergence between the great commandment in Matthew 22:37-39 and the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.
- Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22)
- Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28)
The Church, said Archbishop William Temple, “is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for its nonmembers.” Church exists to love God and to make disciples. I don’t think it’s a secret that the church and its members stumble in their attempts at meeting these lofty goals. There is a story often told about Stravinsky. He had written a new piece with a difficult violin passage. After it had been in rehearsal for several weeks, the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said he was sorry, he had tried his best, but the passage was too difficult and no violinist could play it. Stravinsky said, 'I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it.'
The Church: Some Assembly Required
Notice that we don’t see here anything about the individual? There are no “I” statements. ‘Church’ is a word built on plurality. It reminds of how the Avengers are called to assemble. They don't fight alone; they need each other in order to accomplish their goals. Church isn’t an individual sport either. Though not spoken specifically about Church, one of the 1st things we hear God say is that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). “There are two things we can’t do alone,” said Paul Tournier. “One is to be married, the other is to be a Christian.”
One reason we need others is that Church is meant to be the place where we work out our theology together. Things like the creeds and the councils help us illuminate our theological path. The people I know who most often get off track theologically are those who tend to stay away from Church.
Church is also the place we work out our lives together. We started attending one of CLG’s small groups last year. I wasn’t too excited about it. The groups I’ve been in had been strictly social and my schedule is a little tight for social things. However, this group was different. William and Esther are a part of the group; they started asking hard questions. I was really uncomfortable at first, but I grew a lot because of it. It was Hebrews 10:24-25 in action: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”
If you’ve been to my Facebook wall you’ll notice that I have conflicts with people from church over mostly unimportant things: Lebron vs Jordan, digital vs paper. And what in the world does the Captain see in Maria? However, I’ve also wrestled with many weightier topics over many a meal with people from this assembly.
- What is the value of prayer?
- How do reconcile Hell with a loving God?
- What is the nature of the Trinity?
- Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
The Church isn’t always an easy place to be. Like Nascar car drivers in a tight race, we sometimes trade paint. It’s not uncommon to be rubbed the wrong way or to wonder why we should even show up. There are some Sundays I would consider atheism if would get me a couple more hours worth of sleep! However, church is necessary for discipleship and growth as a follower of Christ. Earl Palmer summed up the value of church well:
"When California's Milpitas High School orchestra attempts Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the result is appalling," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if the performance made old Ludwig roll over in his grave despite his deafness. You might ask: 'Why bother? Why inflict on those poor kids the terrible burden of trying to render what the immortal Beethoven had in mind? Not even the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra can attain that perfection.' My answer is this: The Milpitas High School orchestra will give some people in that audience and this will be their only encounter with Beethoven's great Ninth Symphony. Far from perfection, it is nevertheless the only way they will hear Beethoven's message."
This is the value of assembling to me. We are flawed and often times struggle to produce what it is that God would have us do. But, it is only in assembling that we can show a lost and hurting world the reality of Jesus Christ.