Church can be a confusing topic. Most people think of “Church” as the building where a particular group of people gather to engage in religious rituals. Others see “Church” as a religious non-profit organization. Many Christians hold to the idea that the “Church” is comprised of the people themselves rather than either a building or an organization. But “people” isn’t much of an identity. It isn’t enough for us to live by. It is too vague to grip our imaginations and shape our daily lives. Important questions still linger…
- What does it actually mean to be the Church?
- What is our aim? What is our purpose?
- Is there a difference (biblically speaking) between attending worship services and being the “Church”?
- Does membership in a local congregation make us the “Church”?
To gain a clearer understanding of the Church, we turn once again to God’s story. “Church” becomes a much more poignant and powerful identity when considered within its proper context.
Before moving on, let’s recap God’s story:
So what does this tell us about Church?
The Church is a particular people taking their place in God’s story between Jesus and the New Creation. We undertake our roles in anticipation of the King’s return even as the New Creation is birthed within us here & now as we begin new life in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17):
- The Church is a people of VISION: We are shaped by memory and anticipation. We know where our story began and we know where it’s heading. And we’re living accordingly – as witnesses to the world of what it means to be truly human (according to God’s creative design).
- The Church is a people of ACTION: We are a people engaged in God’s redemptive mission. We understand God’s creative intentions for both humanity and creation. We know how it got off track. We’re understanding more and more how the story turned from catastrophe to redemption in and through Jesus. Like Jesus, we’re taking our places within God’s story as a people living beyond ourselves. We are cooperative participants in Jesus’ continuing ministry of restoration & redemption even as we await its culmination at his return.
- The Church is a people of IDENTITY: We are fixing our eyes on Jesus – the Founder of our faith and the perfect Example of the lives we’re now learning to live (Hebrews 12). We are the Body of Christ in the world today. We are learning to live according to our namesake as “Christ”ians. We are modern day disciples – Jesus’ apprentices.
Biblically speaking, the Church is also the echo and culmination of God’s purposes for Israel that were realized and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Yet our context in God’s story is very different from Israel. We are a people following the life and ministry of Jesus. Because of him, we are a forgiven, renewed, spirit-filled, and empowered people going about our King’s business:
- Blessing. The Church is a unique witness in the world because we are a blessed people – the continuing fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. We live at peace with each other because we rest in God’s blessing. We are a generous people because we trust in God’s blessing. And as we have been blessed, we also live beyond ourselves as a blessing to others.
- Knowing God. We are also a people increasingly coming to know God. We increasingly understand who he is and who we are in him. And through the testimony of our lives – both our words and actions – we are making God known to the world around us.
- Reigning. In a world defined by self-interest, the Church is set apart as a people gratefully submitted to and embracing the reign of Jesus Christ over our lives. We are witnesses to the truth that Jesus is already the King – even though we don’t yet see the full manifestation of his rule and authority. We remember that we were created to govern God’s creation (Genesis 1-2) and we anticipate the day when we will reign with Jesus Christ over the New Creation (Revelation 22:5).
Whatever our relationship to various local organizations, gatherings, and/or buildings, our priority is to live as the Church:
- To live as a people of vision.
- To be a people of action.
- To know our identity.
- To rest in God’s blessing and be a blessing to those around us.
- To increasingly know God and make him known.
- To submit to the reign of Jesus Christ over every aspect of our lives and to go about the King’s business, knowing that our lives here & now will ultimately determine our places in Jesus’ coming Kingdom (Luke 19).
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)