I recently read a newspaper article written by a preacher that was discussing his view of the purpose of the church. Since I've been thinking and writing about similar things recently, the headline caught my eye, so I read it. The contents got me to thinking.
As Christians, we understand (intellectually) the individual truths that serve as the building blocks of the church and its mission.
And yet we struggle with consistently accurately piecing together these building blocks.
If you haven't already read them, check out the following posts for some foundational thoughts on this topic:
- Separating What Is from What Should Be
- Why the Phrase 'The Church In...' isn't Always Clear in Scripture
We understand the following simple truths:
- GOD's will for us individually is to be transformed into Jesus' image—to become like Him in our thinking, speech and behavior. He didn't come just to save us from our sins and leave us in the same character as we were.
- When a person comes to Jesus and dies with Him, Jesus adds that person to His church.
- Thus, Jesus' church is comprised of all the saved of all the ages. A faithful Christian is still a member of Jesus' body after he/she dies.
- Biblically speaking, a church refers to an assembly of Christians—a gathering of individuals who are trying to be like Jesus. The Scriptures also refer to the subset of Christians living in a specific location with the phrase "the church in..."
- The purpose of the church—its mission—is to help change the lives of people, continually focused on "making disciples."
The Scriptures describe Jesus' church as His body (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 12:12-31; Eph. 1:22), His bride (Eph. 5:21-33; Rev. 21:9-27), a chosen people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood and a spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:4-10).
Individually, in these same texts, Christians are described as members of the body—each having an important purpose, living stones, and priests. Jesus' church is alive! It lives because He lives.
We understand each of these analogies.
On the one hand we get it.
But then something strange happens.
At some point during our conversation or thinking, we make this shift. We stop thinking about the church as a living organism and instead think of it in terms of an organization.
This shift in thinking manifests itself in various ways.
- We think and speak of worship in terms of church activities as opposed to the entire scope of Christian life.
- We make strong delineations between the mission of the individual Christian and the mission of the church.
- During church meetings, our focus tends to be primarily on a set of activities as opposed to the people and edification.
- We assign names to our congregations, purchase or construct a building to meet in, and put our assembly's name on a sign out front in an attempt to let people know where we meet.
- We refer to brethren and ourselves as being "members" of the congregation that we regularly meet with—instead of Jesus' body as a whole.
- When we speak of the fact that certain Christians regularly assemble with a certain group, we say they are "worshiping with the [insert congregation's sign name here] church." We use terms like "place membership" and "being identified with" when referring to "members."
- We tend to think and sometimes speak of these church buildings as being holy. They may be used only for certain purposes. Sometimes they are even referred to as "the sanctuary." We treat the physical structure as more GOD's house than our own body, which is truly the temple of GOD.
- We routinely give money to support our organization's treasury, often with little-to-no insight into what the funds will be used for or when they'll be spent. We refer to this contribution as "the Lord's money," as though it is holy and like GOD doesn't own 100% of our money in the first place. Sometimes people refer to this activity as "tithing."
- We appoint shepherds/elders/pastors to leadership roles and they spend at least as much time dealing with business decisions regarding the organization as they do shepherding or overseeing Christians.
Do you see what I'm saying?
I won't go so far as to say that these things are wrong or sinful, but we don't see them in the Scriptures. And each of these things have a profound and often undetected impact on how we think.
GOD's pattern for church is simple:
- Some people in an area become disciples of Jesus.
- These brethren meet together frequently to strengthen each other and stir one another up to love and good works.
- In the Bible, a church is a meeting; it is not a building or a collection of people who have "placed membership."
It's hard to keep separate what is from what should be.