Depending on whom you ask, or the study you read, roughly 70 – 80% of Americans claim Christianity as their faith. Drive through any major city in our country and it seems as if there is a church on every corner. According to a report which appeared on money.cnn.com in October 2009, there were about three thousand five hundred (3500) churches in Detroit alone. For a population of 900,000 that is one church for every 300 men, women and children. With so many churches on so many street corners in America where is the evidence of tangible impact for the Kingdom of God? If 7 to 8 out of every 10 people in America claim to know and follow Christ, where is the demonstrated power that caused the 1st century church to change society, heal the sick and raise the dead? I logically know not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one but for argument’s sake, let’s say 30% of those claiming Christianity are Christians in the biblical sense of the word. That’s still 90 million! A mere few thousand changed the world in the first century.
When you ask people to define church, normally you’ll get one of three definitions:
1) church is a specific denominational organization of believers i.e. Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists,
2) church is referred to as the physical brick and mortar building where we gather to worship, learn and fellowship with each other, or
3) church is the people, the group of believers who follow Christ.
Since Jesus, who established the Church, was the first one to mention the word, let’s turn to Him to find out what the “Church” is. Ephesians 1: 22-23 reads, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
According to the bible the church is the body of Christ in the earth. The church is further called “ecclesia”: believers who are called out of the world to live as God’s people under the authority of Jesus Christ. We are called into a Kingdom, to live under the rule of a King. We need “church” as it is traditionally thought of today. We need the strengthening of fellowship, the support of friendship, encouragement to live daily as a Christian and all that comes with church attendance. However, more importantly, we need the church to really be the church.
There are a number of metaphors in the bible for church, i.e. body, flock, bride. Those words describe our relationship to the Lord. But look at these words which further describe the church; “salt”, “light”, “army”. – These words describe our function in the Earth. These are things which transform. Salt melts ice and flavors food. Once food is salted, it cannot be unsalted. Once ice has melted you have to re-freeze the water to get ice again. Light dispels darkness. Light can be covered, dimmed, or deliberately shut off, but darkness never overcomes light. Let a well-trained army engage with an enemy and it can ensure victory. The church is a tool of transformation.
When the church was established in Acts Chapter 2, the work of the cross had already been completed. When Jesus said, “It is finished”, it was over. The veil was ripped and, once again, we had access to God. However, God intended to do something after this. God redeemed mankind because He loves us and He desired the broken fellowship to be reestablished. The mechanism for that was the cross. But, encompassed within that call is the mandate to bring reconciliation, the same transformation from which we benefit, to the lives of people around us. We, the body of Christ, are called to extend and expand His ministry in the earth. We, the Church, are called to do the works Jesus did and the “greater works” Jesus said we would do.
So, what did Jesus do while He was here? Well, we know Jesus preached the good news, healed the sick, met physical needs. He loved the sinner but pointed to the remedy for sin. He raised the dead and annihilated the religious traditions which kept people bound in legalism but denied them relationship. Guess what the Church is to do? The first century church did it and the program has not changed. We are to extend and expand the ministry of Jesus Christ. As the Spirit leads us; we preach the good news, heal the sick, meet physical needs, love the sinner while pointing to the remedy for the sin, raise the dead and annihilate the religious traditions which keep people bound in legalism but deny them relationship.
After becoming Christians we are not just saved and in relationship with the Lord, we are foot soldiers enlisted in an ARMY of Holy Spirit-fueled individuals. We are an unstoppable power charged with contending with the enemy and the world for the souls of men. We are part of a dynamic movement of changed lives proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are the only conduit of God’s love in the earth reaching for the hearts of men. We are the militant paradox: gently loving and reproving people, humbly performing good works so people can glorify our heavenly Father while violently waging war on the enemy, sin, dogma and anything else that would dare keep captive what God wants back.
For those of us in the church, remember we are not called to a Sunday go to meeting existence. And for some of us, that includes mid-week bible study, Friday night prayer, Saturday morning rehearsal and Sunday night service too. These activities are wonderful because they help build us up and sustain us, but being in church is not what being in THE church is about.
The purpose for church attendance is most evident after we have been strengthened by the preaching, worship, and fellowship. We walk out the church door, into the world and are Spirit-led to do what God has called us to do. I love the sign that we read each time we leave our church parking lot. When pulling out onto the road the last thing we see is a sign which reads, “You are now entering your mission field!” Our time, abilities, and resources are needed to fulfill the work and the mission of the church. Working together, we can do it! We are God’s plan A and there is no plan B. We are the vehicle through which God carries out His purpose in the earth. We, the Church, are His hands, His heart, His mouth and feet reaching into the world. As the Bible affirms in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.”