If we are honest, our modern church looks a little like the Roman church did at its zenith – flush with resources and clout but miserably lacking in spiritual potency. Why do more and more Americans opt out of church attendance? Perhaps, we fight more for political control and dominance instead of fighting to meet the needs of our neighbors and communities. We have succumbed to spiritual pallor and feebleness because we no longer see the Church as Jesus did nor love the Church like Jesus did. Legislature will not save us from sin and death, only Christ has that power. His death and resurrection conquered it once for all. And new life in Him is now what restores and transforms us from our spiritual poverty and condemnation. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11)
So, what then is the purpose of the church? Why did Jesus build it? What are we supposed to be doing if not this futile masquerade or this duty wrought from compunction and moral obligation? What is this more that we long to be a part of?
Jesus summed up all the commandments for us in Matthew 22:37. Love God with all that we have and love our neighbor as ourselves. And in Matthew 28: 19-20, he exits his time on earth in the flesh by telling his followers to go and make disciples. Don’t keep it to yourselves. Do something with it! Change the world. Live for the greater good!
That compels me to stop staring inwardly at the narrowness of my own needs and desires. Look up! Look around. Move and live and love like I care!
The Church is called to embody so much more than a social justice campaign or conversion of a lost soul or a singular spiritual epiphany or a country club meeting. And while many of these initiatives are good and necessary, I cannot get sidetracked by just one of them. I must make a great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission.
Worship. We are not just made to worship, but we are created worshiping. What has my attention and my commitments? I will end up worshiping something whether it be success or appearance or money or love or God. I must actively choose what amasses my devotion.
Service. Love my neighbor. But who is my neighbor and what does that even mean? The world seems rife with bad news and tragedy beyond what I can bear. How can I make a difference?
Who is in front of me or behind me in the checkout line? Do they really deserve my impatience or have I simply inflated my view of my own time above theirs? Who is my server, my landlord, my mechanic, my cashier? Do I really listen when they speak or am I looking out for my own self-interest?
What if loving my neighbor is as simple and looking them in the eye and meaning it when I ask, “How are you?” Or listening to different point of view without formulating any sort of response beyond acknowledging that I truly hear them?
Outreach. Identifying as a follower of Christ shouldn’t make me a card carrying, religious-jargon-spouting hypocrite. Instead, it should fill me with such empathy and compassion for the unique struggle of others that I seek them out and show them they are known and loved. You are seen and known and loved just as I have come to find that I am seen and known and loved in Christ! While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. There is no prerequisite on grace.
Community. We are in this together. I heard someone say this week that a person can love their country and loathe their government. Similarly, we can love the Church and resent the institution. But regardless of background and gender and ethnicity and political views and all the stuff that divides us, we are one body in Christ. So much so that even Paul reminds us to look past those very things in his letters to the Church. And looking back on my own journey, I see that I have grown more from friction through the company of others than I ever did in my own solitude. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)
Growth. And thank God that his work in us is not yet complete! What sweet relief that I am not left here in my brokenness to muddle through the wreckage on my own! The life of a believer is one of continual transformation and growth. The Spirit does the work that we cannot do in our own power. But for the grace of God! I am not the same as I once was. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:8-10)
So let us go then, and walk together as the Church.0