The Church

the-church

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.

BeChurch

The Nicene Creed* describes the Church with four identifying marks:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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The Church’s importance:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

ibelieve

*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.

The Church Playground

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At first glance, when you drive by any school at recess the whole thing looks like a bunch of random kids descending into chaos bordered by a fence to keep it all from spilling out into the streets.  But there’s much more going on than the quick peek tells you.  There are all kinds of petty little groups that make up the playground.  It kind of reminds me of church.

The Presbyterians head outside into recess and can’t believe the lack of order going on.  They try their darnedest to get some organized games happening, but the Baptists aren’t having it.  They’re too far separated from all the other kids to care about playing with any of them.  Besides, nobody is playing by the rules and if there’s one thing Baptists can’t stand is a lack of legalism.  The Pentecostals all seem completely oblivious to anything that’s going on.  They’re just having too much fun going as fast as they can on the merry-go-round to see that the Catholics are totally aghast at their lack of guilt feelings over hogging the equipment.

The little group of Episcopalians are lost in some funky inferiority complex and retreat into their liturgical games while the popular kids, the Non-denominational group, break out singing Chris Tomlin songs so loud that the Methodists go scrambling for their Book of Discipline to see what to do about it.  The Lutheran kids are so busy fighting each other about who is the true Lutheran that they can’t hear the non-denom kids anyway.  And the Reformed are those annoying kids who keep acting like the teacher instead of just enjoying being a kid on the playground.

There are two things about the church playground: the groups of kids don’t play very well together; and, the entire playground thinks it’s the only one in town.  They don’t realize there are other playgrounds with all kinds of other kids.

We live in a big world.  How we interact with that world is going to determine if the school gets shut down, with no more playground.  After all, what parent wants to send their kid to the school where nobody gets along with each other?

What’s more, how we interact with each other on the playground of Christianity says a lot about our view of God.  For far too many groups, God is the high and lofty Principal who’s only seen when something goes wrong, not realizing that he is really the encouraging teacher who’s daily in the classroom offering kind words and self-sacrifice that changes your life forever.

Instead of lamenting that Christendom has vanished from its grand position in society and that the moral fabric of our country is down the toilet along with the janitor’s cigarette butt, maybe we should stop giving the other kid a swirlie long enough to see that our bullying and belligerent ways are anything but the words and ways of Jesus to a world who needs spiritual care, not spiritual abuse.

I’d suggest we use our detention time to think about what we’ve done.

Romans 9:6-13

            I want to break this to you as gently as possible, but as straightforward as I can:  My friend, you are not in control!  Any semblance of control we think we have is only a delusion.  Now, before you push back on this its important to make the distinction between control and taking charge.  Taking charge of your life means that you own your decisions and take responsibility for their outcome.  The Bible describes this as “self-control.”
            But “control” is not your job – never was, isn’t, and never will be – that’s God’s business.  God makes his choices.  This was the Apostle Paul’s point to the church at Rome.  The congregation was a volatile mix of both Jew and Gentile.  There was some bad history between them that stretched back centuries.  Yet, here they were together in one church worshiping Jesus.
            Paul made his choice to step into the mess between them and let each group know something important: It is neither their choice about who’s in and who’s out as God’s people, nor their choice about how someone gets in to start with.  Again, this is God’s choice.
            The Jews needed to know that Gentiles are in because God did his work of calling and including; Gentiles are chosen just as much as Jews.  The Gentiles needed to know that they were not replacing Jews as chosen people.  The point? God chooses whomever he darn well pleases to choose, and its not up to you, my friend.
            This speaks on so many levels about how to conduct ourselves with one another in the church.  The foundation of all good church dynamics is the recognition that God is the one who calls and gathers people together in the church.  This needs to be the starting point in our relations with each other.

 

Sovereign God, you choose whomever you will to include in your kingdom.  Allow me to see Jesus in each person you call and save so that I can love and encourage them in the faith which is mutually and graciously given to us all; through Christ our Lord, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Do One Thing Well

 
 
            I was watching the BBC series Planet Earth II last night.  There’s nothing quite like the soothing British tone of David Attenborough talking to you about the wonders of our planet.  In the first episode, the sloth… was on… and he… moved… really… slow.  That’s what sloths do.  They move slow.  But that’s okay.  They just move up and down mango trees… at a really sloooow pace… and eat mango leaves.  Turns out they put their giddy-up on a bit when its mating time, but, other than that, they just focus on their mango tree existence.
 
            What struck me about watching Slow Poke Sloth was the fact that he didn’t care he was slow (he did want to get to that lady sloth quicker, but, hey, there’s joy in the anticipation).  He wasn’t wishing he were a jaguar racing across the savannah.  He did one thing.  He did that one thing really well.
 
            It sometimes amazes me how we humans, in contrast to the sloth, keep trying to be all things to all people.  We hurry and scurry and fret and worry and strive and connive and go as fast as we can to get where we’re going, sometimes not even knowing where it is we’re headed.
 
            When it comes to church ministry, even our own individual Christian lives, it also amazes me how much we try to do everything under the sun – as if we were meant to be every creature on the planet.  I have often heard small churches lament that they’re not bigger.  The implication is that if they had more people in the pews, then they could really do a lot of things, offer more ministries.  Yet, even the megachurch doesn’t do everything well.  Truth be told, the trend for big churches is finding ways to be smaller – which is why the multi-site movement is prevalent today.  The big guy has found that doing pastoral and spiritual care is difficult with such size.
 
            I think we need to take a lesson from Mr. Sloth.  He moves slow, but with single-minded purpose.  If you look at Jesus in the Gospels, he was never in a hurry to get anything done.  He moved at his own pace, not deterred or influenced by others trying to get him to go faster or do something he didn’t want or need to do.  When our Lord looked at the state of people concerned about what was going to happen, he told them to do… one… thing… well. 
 
“Don’t worry and ask yourselves, ‘Will we have anything to drink?  Will we have anything to drink?  Will we have any clothes to wear?’ Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things.  Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these….  
 
“But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants.  Then the other things will be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
 
            The singular question for each Christian, every church, and all denominations and ministry groups is: “What does God want?”  The question is not: “What is that other church doing?” “What will make this group of people happy?” “What is everyone else doing?”  Nope.  What… does… God… want?  What does it mean to put God and his work first?  Now we’re talking – that’s the kind of discussion to have in an elders’ meeting.  It’s the kind of inner dialogue that needs to happen in your heart.
 

 

            Mango leaves are not you’re thing.  But going hard after the kingdom of God and his righteousness is to be your one passionate pursuit.  If you will do this one thing, then all the other stuff will fall into place.  That’s not David Attenborough talking – its Jesus.