Friday, April 04, 2008

What is the church -- April Newsletter Article

Here's my cover article from this month's April church newsletter....for those who are interested, but don't receive it.

It’s a question that bears reflecting upon from time to time: “What is the church?” Some assume that the church is simply the building in which a collection of people worship, others think of it as one of de Tocqueville’s “voluntary associations”, much like a fraternal club or a civic organization. Some see it as an institution; others as a family. Even within our own congregation, there is a divergence of views.

I believe that God’s word gives us sufficient understanding of what the church is, and we can see a few major themes as we look at Scripture (though this is by no means an exhaustive catalogue):

1) The church is a Covenant People. Throughout scripture, we see God making covenant with his people as a way of expressing his special relationship with them. The call of Abraham in Genesis 12 is confirmed in a formal ceremony in Genesis 15 and later confirmed in Genesis 17. God elaborates and expands the covenant in Exodus, and we find the laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy as expressions of that covenant. God further develops the covenant with his people in 2 Samuel 7, establishing an eternal kingly rule. And in Jeremiah 31, God promises a new and better covenant that is in Christ. Across the sweep of scripture, both Old and New Testament, we see that a grace-based personal relationship with the living God is foundational to understanding the church. Church isn’t just “a good thing to do”….it is committing to a relationship of trust and commitment to the living God.

2) The church is Universal. This term does not mean that every human who ever lives is a part of the church. Rather, it means that the church is not bound by time and ethnicity. Galatians 3:28 tells us “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. By coming into covenant with the living God, each of us also establishes a bond with every one else who has been in that covenant. All the saints of the past are our brothers and sisters (as Hebrews 11 and 12 so glowingly illustrate in the image of the “great cloud of witnesses”). All the saints of different nations are connected with you in a special way by virtue of the covenant relationship we share. We may be divided by language and political borders, yet we are essentially one in our faith in Christ.

3) The church is on a Mission. This mission is quite simply to make God known through word and deed. Jesus gave his disciples the great commission at the end of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). Earlier in that same gospel, Jesus teaches “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (5:16). This is not just a call for us to send resources and people overseas. It is a call for each of us to be used as God’s missionaries where He has placed us. Whether in physically blessing others through good deeds or spiritually blessing them with good news, we are acting as God’s instruments to make Him and His character known.

As we reflect together on the nature of the church, I hope you’ll consider that church is not so much where you go as it is who you are.
Soli Deo Gloria