“Church” could mean several different things.
- the universal body of believers (the “catholic” church)
- the local church community (“My church really gathered around.”)
- The building and the services in it (“Let’s go to church.”)
When I ask, “Why Church?” I am asking, “Why does the local church exist?” I am going to focus for our purposes today, I am talking about the local church as a community. The Bible has no vision of someone who is in the church without being in a local church body. It would be like my cut-off toes claiming to still be a part of my body. Well, yeah, sort of, but not in any way that meaningfully matters.
Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. Would it seem right for the foot to cry, “I am not a hand, so I couldn’t be part of this body”? Even if it did, it wouldn’t be any less joined to the body. And what about an ear? If an ear started to whine, “I am not an eye; I shouldn’t be attached to this body,” in all its pouting, it is still part of the body. Imagine the entire body as an eye. How would a giant eye be able to hear? And if the entire body were an ear, how would an ear be able to smell? This is where God comes in. God has meticulously put this body together; He placed each part in the exact place to perform the exact function He wanted. If all members were a single part, where would the body be? So now, many members function within the one body. The eye cannot wail at the hand, “I have no need for you,” nor could the head bellow at the feet, “I won’t go one more step with you.” It’s actually the opposite. The members who seem to have the weaker functions are necessary to keep the body moving; the body parts that seem less important we treat as some of the most valuable; and those unfit, untamed, unpresentable members we treat with an even greater modesty. That’s something the more presentable members don’t need. But God designed the body in such a way that greater significance is given to the seemingly insignificant part. That way there should be no division in the body; instead, all the parts mutually depend on and care for one another. If one part is suffering, then all the members suffer alongside it. If one member is honored, then all the members celebrate alongside it. You are the body of the Anointed, the Liberating King; each and every one of you is a vital member. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
For in the same way that one body has so many different parts, each with different functions; we, too—the many—are different parts that form one body in the Anointed One. Each one of us is joined with one another, and we become together what we could not be alone. Since our gifts vary depending on the grace poured out on each of us, it is important that we exercise the gifts we have been given. If prophecy is your gift, then speak as a prophet according to your proportion of faith. If service is your gift, then serve well. If teaching is your gift, then teach well. If you have been given a voice of encouragement, then use it often. If giving is your gift, then be generous. If leading, then be eager to get started. If sharing God’s mercy, then be cheerful in sharing it.
Love others well, and don’t hide behind a mask; love authentically. Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it. Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. Do not slack in your faithfulness and hard work. Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord. Do not forget to rejoice, for hope is always just around the corner. Hold up through the hard times that are coming, and devote yourselves to prayer. Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and home to others. If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses. If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well. Work toward unity, and live in harmony with one another. Avoid thinking you are better than others or wiser than the rest; instead, embrace common people and ordinary tasks. Do not retaliate with evil, regardless of the evil brought against you. Try to do what is good and right and honorable as agreed upon by all people. If it is within your power, make peace with all people. Again, my loved ones, do not seek revenge; instead, allow God’s wrath to make sure justice is served. Turn it over to Him. For the Scriptures say, “Revenge is Mine. I will settle all scores.” But consider this bit of wisdom: “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink; because if you treat him kindly, it will be like heaping hot coals on top of his head.” Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good. (Romans 12:4-21)
So, why is the local church part of God’s plan for his people? There are a LOT of definitions for church, but here is what I am running with today: The local church is here to create mature disciples of and faithful ambassadors for Christ
- FOCUSING ON CHRIST
In gathering as a local church, we corporately remind ourselves and each other who is at the center of this community we are building.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching (start with right understanding of God) and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (move to righteous community).” Acts 2:42
C.S. Lewis wrote:
“We don’t come to church, to be a church. We come to Christ, and then we are built up as a church. If we come to church just to be with one another, one another is all we’ll get. And it isn’t enough. Inevitably, our hearts will grow empty, and then angry. If we put community first, we will destroy community. But if we come to Christ first and submit ourselves to Him and draw life from Him, community gets traction.”
It’s too easy to forget about the author and finisher of our faith in the rat race of ever day life. Every Sunday, we all turn our eyes on Jesus, because without Christ, there is no church and there will be no community, at least not the kind the Bible envisions.
- SERVING ONE ANOTHER
The word translated one another is used 100 times in the New Testament. About 1/3 focus on unity, 1/3 on love, 1/6 on humility an deference, and the rest are a smorgasbord (kiss each other, pray, teach, be hospitable, bear burdens, etc.) Here’s a brief list of only 59:
- “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
- “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
- “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
- “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
- “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
- “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
- “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
- “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
- “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
- “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
- “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
- “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
- “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
- “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
- “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
- “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
- “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.”
- (Galatians 5:15)
- “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Gal. 5:26)
- “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
- “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
- “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
- “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
- “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
- “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
- “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
- “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
- “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
- “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
- “T each…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
- “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
- “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
- “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
- “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
- “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
- “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
- “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
- “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
- “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
- “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
- “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
- “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
- “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
- “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
- “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
- “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
- “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
- “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
- “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
- “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
- “…Love one another.” (II John 5)
We can’t “one another” if we are not around others. To not be involved in a local church is to reject the role that you are expected to play in serving the family of God, and to deny others the opportunity to use their gifts to serve you on behalf of God. In church community, we are meant to minister and be ministered to.
If you are…
A unifier or peacemaker
Can work nursery
Can fix or cook stuff
…we need you. The church needs you to serve and be served.
Are you the kind of person who offers all kinds of caretaking challenges to those around you (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually)? These are all kinds of opportunities to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
We need you. It’s part of God’s plan for his church to mature well by learning to love and serve well.
If you have surrendered your life to Christ, you are part of God’s body and thus this body, andyou bring something into our midst that the church needs. You might just be a big toe, but as some of us know, it’s really, really nice to have all your toes.
- MTURING IN CHRIST
If you reject life in a church community, you are rejecting the plan that Jesus has for your growth and discipleship. I don’t say that to pressure you to stay in this church in particular; I’m talking in a much broader sense. It is crucial that we commit to ongoing, purposeful, engaged life with a local church.
“Henri Nouwen defines "community" as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.
As I look around on Sunday morning at the people populating the pews, I see the risk that God has assumed. For whatever reason, God now reveals himself in the world not through a pillar of smoke and fire, not even through the physical body of his Son in Galilee, but through the mongrel collection that comprises my local church and every other such gathering in God’s name. ― Philip Yancey, Church: Why Bother?: My Personal Pilgrimage
We don’t mature through ease. We mature through pressure, conflict and tension. One person sharpens another like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). There are no shortcuts to maturity. We must go through the things that God uses to make us mature. Think of how Jesus brought a zealot (Simon) and a tax collector (Matthew) together into his disciples. This is marriage, too. If you ever hear someone who is married say, “We never have any conflict,” they aren’t maturing as God intended. They are avoiding things. I promise you that they have work to do in every possible way, and God has placed their spouse in the life to love them well, and one of those ways is by helping them mature. If there is no conflict in your life, you aren’t growing. If you aren’t growing, you are simply existing at best and dying at worst.
In the same way, there is plenty of opportunity in the local church.
"Yes, the church fails in its mission and makes serious blunders precisely because the church comprises human beings who will always fall short of the glory of God. That is the risk God took. Anyone who enters the church expecting perfection does not understand the nature of that risk or the nature of humanity. Just as every romantic eventually learns that marriage is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work, every Christian must learn that church is also only a beginning.
The composer Igor Stravinsky once wrote a new piece that contained a difficult violin passage. After several weeks of rehearsal the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said that he could not play it. He had given it his best effort but found the passage too difficult, even unplayable. Stravinsky replied, "I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it." - Phillip Yancey in Church, Why Bother?
4. MISSIONAL LIVING
17 Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! 18 All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through the Anointed. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him. 19 It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other.20 So we are now representatives of the Anointed One, the Liberating King; God has given us a charge to carry through our lives—urging all people on behalf of the Anointed to become reconciled to the Creator God. 21 He orchestrated this: the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5)
God’s plan for the spread of the Gospel is for us to embody the very righteousness of God. For us to be a representative of reconciliation for broken relationships with God and with each other.
- Does your spouse know this and experience this through you?
- Do your kids (or your parents) know this?
- Do your friends see this?
- Those with whom you work?
- When you post online, does the Facebook world see you as an agent of reconciliation in a broken world?
The Church is here to create mature disciples of and faithful ambassadors for Christ. May God give His church the wisdom, grace and strength to do this for the good of the world, and for His glory.
* * * * * * * **
From Carl F. George, Prepare Your Church for the Future (Tarrytown: Revell, 1991), 129-131.