Friday, April 02, 2010
I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking lately about the church and what it's supposed to be. I know that there almost as many opinions on this as there are people, but I think it's important. The question that I've been asking myself is, what kind of church did Jesus intend when He first established it? By the way, the church was Jesus' idea, not anyone else's.
We used to live in a society that was openly Christian; therefore the role of the church was assumed and central. Those days are long gone. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. When the church's role is assumed it tends to rely on custom and tradition and, at least to me, seems to lose sight of its purpose. So, why is the church here?
Throughout Scripture we see that God uses people, as imperfect as we all are, to carry out His purposes. He chose the nation of Israel through whom he would reveal Himself. He told them that they were called out to be a light to all of the nations in the world. The church is a continuation of that purpose. Jesus called His disciples "salt and light." He declared that the church would carry on His work, and even do greater works than He Himself had done, through the Holy Spirit whom He sent (John 14:12-13). The nature of the church is expanded upon in the New Testament as in 1 Peter 2:9: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
As for how the church operates, what it looks like, the style, etc., I believe the Bible is deliberately vague. That is so that it can be effective and relevant in different cultures and times as it reaches out to all peoples in all places. Paul said it well in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he said, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." The core message doesn't (shouldn't) change, but the packaging varies widely. What is that core message? Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 that he passed on what was of "most importance." "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time."
In other words, the core message is that Jesus did come in the flesh, lived, taught, performed miracles, died and rose again so that we also may live. He commanded His church to preach this Gospel to all who would come after and to teach them to follow His teachings (Matt. 28).
Now to the point of my blog. Some of you reading this attend Clearview Community Church. You may or may not be aware that we have tried to tailor our Sunday morning services to relate to people who are "seekers," those who are interested in Christianity, but still have questions. We've tried to keep those services free of confusing forms and traditions while presenting the message clearly through music and speaking. Thankfully, we've seen many people come to that place where they have become Christ-followers. Here is where I'd like to be clear.
This is only the beginning of the process. I've already written on what it means to be a Christ-follower (look at the older blogs if you'd like) but I'd like to help us understand what many Christians worldwide, already understand. The Christian life is a life of surrender. Jesus' invitation in Matthew 16:24-25 is to "take up (our) cross and follow (Him)." I think it's particularly appropriate to write of this on Good Friday, a day set aside to remember the sacrifice of Christ.
Jesus willingly laid down His life in order to accomplish a reconciliation between us and God. He walked in heroic obedience, knowing that it was the only way. We honour our soldiers and firefighters and other first responders because they willingly put themselves in harms way for the sake of others. Jesus was the ultimate example of that. Then he invited us to take up our own cross of sacrifice and follow Him into a life of purpose.
What is God's call to you? You will never find it if you are only "interested." God's deeper purposes are revealed only to those who are willing to swim in the deep waters and trust Him. Take the time to read through some of the narratives in Scripture and dare to place yourself in them.
See yourself in the story of Gideon, a young man, from a weak family in a small tribe who God used to save a nation. See yourself in the story of Paul, a rebel against God who was turned around and used as (arguably) the greatest missionary in the history of the world. Or how about Rahab, a prostitute who switched allegiances, saved God's people and ended up being one of Jesus' ancestors.
God is writing a story that ends with the recreation of a new heaven and a new earth. He's calling a people who are willing to help Him make that happen, because He chooses to use people. Not the smartest, or the strongest or the richest, just the willing; those who understand that what He has to offer is worth laying down our lives for. Remember that on Good Friday he laid down His life as well, and on Sunday He rose again so that we can rise as well. "Follow me!"