I love the local church. I’m in awe of God’s amazing plan to use the local church to give witness to the reality of the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ in word, deed and community life.
When someone says to me, “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the church,” I quickly reply, “Then I don’t think you love Jesus.” If we love, follow and obey Jesus, we must love what he loves – and he loves the local church.
Jesus said he would build the church (Matthew 16:18), and Paul said, “God’s purpose…was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10, NLT). If we’re not contributing to the local church, we’re working against God’s plan.
I know we can argue about what Jesus meant by “church.” We can speculate about its nature, organization, structure, priorities and failings. But we cannot, in good conscience, malign the church. The church is the bride of Christ. When we malign the bride, we offend the bridegroom.
The local church at Gathering
Gathering 2014 increased my love and admiration for the local church. Local churches from across the nation gathered to pray, worship, process issues, celebrate testimonies of God’s work and grow our heart for mission.
I was humbled and inspired to be part of a group of believers pursuing Christ and seeking empowerment from his Spirit. I was encouraged by our common desire to be a people on mission, living in increasingly authentic community, faithful to the gospel and grappling with 21st century challenges and opportunities.
But I also have some concerns about the church. They’re not concerns about marginalization, shrinking attendance or irrelevance. My greatest concern for the church is that we’ll forget who we are. If we define ourselves by common history, bloodlines, recipe books or worship styles, we can easily become sidetracked.
Our mission – our reason for existence – must flow out of our identity in Christ.
What is the church?
“You [plural] are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9, NLT).
You are a chosen people. God first chose us, we didn’t choose him. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus is the “author of our faith,” and John 6:44 says no one comes to God unless the Spirit draws them. We can argue about predestination versus free will, but there’s no argument about God’s initiating work on our behalf.
You are royal priests. Every Christ follower is a priest – gifted, called and commissioned to ministry – as part of a corporate priesthood. God put us in neighbourhoods, teams, schools, offices and workplaces to be ministers of the gospel. Look into your world to see where there’s brokenness and step into it with the reconciling truth and power of the gospel.
A holy nation. The church is set apart for God’s glory and commissioned to fulfill his purposes, and individual Christ followers have a valuable contribution to make to the church. Remember: church is about God, not us. Too often, we treat the church as if it were set apart for our purposes. We say we’re “church shopping,” or looking to have “our needs met.”
But church isn’t an event to attend, a product to consume or a service to use. Church is a community of Christ followers living out our corporate identity in Christ and reflecting the reality of the risen Christ to the world around us – even to the heavenly realms!
Show others God’s goodness
Here’s the role of the church, as translated in the NIV: “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” To declare is to “advertise, to proclaim” or, in current terms, to be the movie trailer of the greatest story ever told.
If you’ve had a difficult church experience or were hurt by someone in the church, press into Jesus and his bride. Forgive those who hurt you, be renewed in Christ and be encouraged by the bride.
Even the apostles had challenging church experiences. However, long-term disengagement wasn’t an option for them, nor is it an option for us. Individualistic spirituality isn’t a biblical model.
The bride of Christ is beautiful, dangerous, inspiring and disappointing all at once. Yet it’s what Jesus committed himself to build and use to demonstrate the reality of the inbreaking kingdom of God.
Thank God for the local church.