|Photo courtesy of kingcarp|
Recently the Lord has been emphasizing some things in my heart about the church. A few weeks ago this thought struck me;
If "church" is a place we go, then it is also a place we can leave.
Let me restate that for clarity and emphasis. If "church" is a place we can visit, or a location we can go then it is also a place we can leave after a prescribed amount of time. This has some very serious implications, one of which we will look at a little later.
The other thing that the Lord struck me with recently was this thought;
Jesus didn't come to this earth, live, die a torturous death, go into the grave and rise again on the third day for two or three hours of our week.
These two thoughts go hand in hand because the latter informs the former. In Acts 20:28 the Bible tells us,
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
Further along in the New Testament Paul writes these words to the Ephesian church,
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Jesus Christ did not die and "give Himself up" for a building or a piece of property upon which sits a place we call "church." He gave Himself up for a people and not only that, but He gave Himself up for all of us. Not just "all" as in every one of us, but "all" as in every bit of every one of us.
In 1 Timothy 3:14-15 Paul tells his spiritual son;
I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.
Now, Paul is instructing Timothy on how people ought to behave in the household of God. Does he mean this is how we act when we come to "church"? That is, when we are on church grounds, doing church things this is how we act and then when we leave we can act another way? I seriously doubt it. This is one of the gravest problems that comes with the idea that church is just a place we go. We think we can act one way in it and another way when we leave. This is certainly not the message of the Bible.
When Joshua issued the challenge to the Israelites to choose whom they would serve he gave them an option. He said, "You choose today who you're going to serve. You can choose to serve the gods of the people of this land and God will let you do that." We have a choice as to whether we are going to serve and worship a building or a concept of what church is and God will allow us to do that. That is freewill. However, Joshua then said, "but as for me and my house...we will serve the Lord." Did Joshua mean that he and the structure that he lived in would worship God? Probably not. That would be ludicrous.
The household of God and the house of Joshua had nothing to do with the building and everything to do with the people. The word that we translate "church" is "ecclesia" in the Greek. This simply means the "gathering" or the "assembly." Church was never meant to be limited to, or defined as, a building or a place but a people, the people of God. This is who Christ died for, this is what Christ instituted among men. He didn't die and rise again so He could come pressure wash the siding to make it clean. He didn't die and rise again so He could make sure we had the appropriate carpet color or shingles on the steeple. The truth about church is that it is the people in the building and when they leave the building they take church with them wherever they go. Furthermore, how we are to conduct ourselves in the church applies to every moment of our lives because we don't come and go from the Body of Christ.
If that is what the church is, then what are we supposed to do? I can think of three very specific things that we, as the church, are supposed to be doing.
1. Worship. When we come together as the "gathering" we need to be worshiping God in spirit and in truth. I long to see the church worship with total disregard to the people around them and pour out their souls in pure praise to God Almighty because He is worth it and He has earned it. Not only that but we should be worshiping God whether or not we are in a building labeled "church." It should not be limited to a place. If we are not doing this, we are not acting like the church.
2. Sharing the Good News. This is the commandment of Jesus to His followers, "Go therefore into all the world and make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you." We don't have mediocre news to share, we have GREAT news of God's unending mercy, love and salvation. If we are not doing this, we are not acting like the church.
3. Serving. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, wrapped a towel around His waist and washed the dirty, nasty feet of His disciples. He set and example of service for us and James 1:27 tells us that pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God is visiting orphans and widows in the their distress. The church, the true church, is to be about the business of serving the least of these and the ones who are in the most need. If we are not doing this, we are not acting like the church.
So, how do we do all of that? I confess that I don't have a specific answer to that. The truth is, it is going to look different for each of us. That is why the Body of Christ is made up of so many different parts, so God can use us in as many different ways to carry out these three objectives. This I do know, Christ didn't come to die for a place or a building or a piece of property. He came to die for a people and among those people I can say that as for me and my house, we will be serving and worshiping the Lord.