What is the Church’s identity?
Who are Christians?
What is the Church all about?
Why is the Church important?
Maybe you have wondered what in the Sam Hill this church thing is all about, or what it is supposed to be about. It could be that you have abandoned the notion of “church” altogether, opting for a more private spirituality free from the machinations of power people in a broken system. Let’s face it: there just may likely be more unhealthy churches in America than healthy ones. After all, in a chaotic topsy-turvy world, folks end up making church in whatever image they’d like. It seems to me this points to a great need to recover a more historic and robust understanding of this practice of “church.” So, let’s explore how church ought to be and seek to live into it’s distinct vision for believers in Jesus everywhere.
The Church’s identity:
The Church is made up of people who have been reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and brought to new life in the Spirit. This special relationship that followers of Jesus enjoy with their God is a covenantal relationship, and, so, the Church is a covenantal community. That is, believers in Jesus are receiving the blessings first promised by God’s covenant relationship with Abraham in the Old Testament that all nations would be blessed by grace through faith. God’s covenant with his people means that God has graciously committed himself to acting on their behalf through election, predestination, adoption, and redemption. The new covenant community, the Church, receives the promises of God and exists to follow Jesus Christ in all things. The Church is not a voluntary society, like every other human institution, but is the divinely called community of the redeemed whom God has joined together through his Spirit to Christ. Therefore, an individual, theologically speaking, does not join a church; instead, God joins the Church to Jesus.
The Nicene Creed* describes the Church with four identifying marks:
- The Church is one. The unity of the Church comes from God’s covenant people being in fellowship with him through Jesus in the Spirit. This unity is expressed through the bond of love and a common worship that includes the spiritually forming practices of preaching, liturgy, and sacraments. Since believers serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit who exists in unity, so Christians are to work toward maintaining their unity through the bond of peace.
- The Church is The Church is holy by virtue of Christ’s finished work. Therefore, the members of the Church are saints, called by God to live in holiness and participate with him in carrying out his purposes on earth. As God is holy, so believers are to be holy in all they do. Since Christians are holy through God’s justification in Christ, so the Church as saints must uphold justice in the world.
- The Church is This means that God’s people are found in all parts of the world throughout all times in history, including every race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Since the Church includes all kinds of people from different cultures, these believers must work together. The Church, across all kinds of denominations, ought to minister together to the total life of all people through gospel proclamation and good works done in the Spirit.
- The Church is Apostolic means “to be sent.” The Church is not only a people who are gathered for worship and teaching; they are also sent into the world as salt and light to those who remain in darkness. Where the Church goes, the rule and reign of Jesus goes with them so that the gospel is spread to all nations.
The Church’s mission:
- The Church is called to love God. The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the house where God dwells. The Church exists to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Christians are to develop intimacy with Jesus through the Spirit.
- The Church is called to love one another. The Church is the Body of Christ and is to be a haven for saints. The Church exists for community and is the place where believers are strengthened in faith through the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament.
- The Church is called to love its neighbors. The Church is the people of God, being a hospital for sinners. The Church exists to serve the kingdom of God so that God’s benevolent and gracious rule might extend to all creation.
These three dimensions define the Church as being a “missional” community of redeemed persons who are concerned and focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. That is, the forward direction of the Church is to come ever closer to Christ through faith, be strengthened in that faith together through the Word of God, confidently stepping into the world to engage it with the love and grace of God so that others may come to faith in Jesus Christ.
The Church’s importance:
- The Church is a Trinitarian community, birthed as a free expression of God’s love through Word and Spirit. As people created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed for his purposes, believers reflect the image of the triune God. The Church was important enough for Christ to die for.
- What the Church “does” flows from its identity as a redeemed community, being the people of God. So, then, the Church’s mission is not so much about establishing evangelistic programs so much as it is to listen to the Spirit of God and live in the power of the Spirit as it rubs shoulders with unbelievers.
- Just as the Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Spirit, so the Church is sent into the world armed with the grace and love of God as if believers were ambassadors for Christ in a ministry of reconciliation.
- God has moved in a “downwardly mobile” way in order to bring reconciliation to all of creation. God has gathered the Church on earth to be sent as witnesses of Christ’s person and work through humility, meekness, and gentleness so that God’s mercy and peace might become realities in this world.
Therefore, the Church is to glorify the triune God by embracing its missional identity and mandate by making disciples of Jesus Christ through worship, community, and outreach. The Church is to aim its love toward God, one another, and neighbor through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.
*The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
In accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.