The point of the church
Posted On March 1, 2023
I have no interest in maintaining a church that wishes to avoid the pains of living, the messiness of discipleship, and the discomforts of serving.
What’s the point of such a church anyway?
It doesn’t seem to be a church.
Why does a church exist at all? It is a community gathered for a few purposes. I’ll summarize into three main points. 1. Upward – to glorify God. The purpose of the church is not about its own existence. It’s not a social club. It doesn’t exist to for it’s own survival and maintenance. It exists for the purpose of carrying out the mission that God has for it. And once that mission is fulfilled, the church no longer needs to exist. It is temporary. It exists as long at it pleases God. And it all belongs to God. And it all can change in order to fulfill the mission. It grows (however you want to define that – in raw numbers, or in depth of faith) because of God. This means it is connected to God as its main source. Jesus talked about this as “I am the vine, and you are branches.”
2. Inward – The edification of the saints, or the making of disciples. Again, this isn’t about being a social club. Sure, we can bring comfort to each other when afflicted. But it’s not about making the environment always comfortable and avoiding discomfort and change at all costs. Living things and living faith means change. Discomfort is a part of growth. Being a disciple means growing in faith. The beauty of being part of a community of faith is that we don’t have to do this journey alone. We do it together. We can be vulnerable together. The beauty of the church is that smacks the myth of rugged individualism down for the lie that it is. We can’t go through the world alone. We need each other. Salvation is not a solo adventure. In spite of the popular American Christian idea of a personal savior motif – no, you need more that just a personal savior. Faith isn’t just an individual relationship with God. Salvation isn’t just a personal thing. There are certainly individual elements to all of these things. But there is more. Don’t confuse American values and ideals with Christian faith and what it is about. If Christian faith was only about an individual and personal relationship with God, then there would be no reason to continue to have churches. None. Just go off on your own – just you and Jesus. Good luck with that. But Scripture doesn’t support that. There is a communal aspect to faith and salvation that cannot be denied. And it’s a healthy part that we need and is helpful to us. Because none of us are strong enough to go this journey on our own. None of us. We need each other. We need a community of believers to support one another. To be models for one another. To offer grace and mercy to one another. To pick each other up. To forgive one another. To be vulnerable with one another. To hear where God is active and to hear Good News. It isn’t going to be perfect because people are involved. There will be times when it is far from perfect. When there is abuse and trauma. When you will have to separate yourself from the community and go elsewhere maybe. And that sucks. But another community awaits you. To start over. It may not look the same – it probably won’t. And that’s a good thing. Christianity is about starting over after all.
3. Outward – Evangelism and service. If our faith doesn’t drive us and compel us to do something with it, then is it faith at all? Our faith drives our behavior. Faith isn’t about what we know, or about being right. It’s about who we are and shaping who we are that causes us to live as we are. What we know is one thing. Living what we know is lived faith. I would say when we are living our faith, that’s telling the world what it is that we actually truly believe. It’s one thing to say what you believe. It’s quite another to put your beliefs into action. You can’t be incongruent between your actions and your core, actual beliefs. You’re wired that way. Your body won’t let you over the long term. If you want to know what someone actually, truly believes, then watch them. Listen to them as they interact with others. You’ll know pretty quickly what they really believe in the core of who they are. Don’t bother to ask them what they believe. You’ll get the rehearsed answer. You’ll get the aspirational answer of what they want to believe. It’s in the actions that we see what people actually believe.
This is the core of what church is about. There are plenty of other elements that pertain to these things. Worship, the sacraments, the creeds, etc. They all fit into the three things I’ve outlined above. This isn’t about dismissing any of those things as unimportant. They all have their role.
I think there are a lot of folks who have trouble dealing with pain and suffering. We want to brush them aside quickly. We want to feel happy. We want to feel good – whatever that means. But there is a problem with that – we were created with a full range of feelings and emotions. And I’m guessing that they were given to us by God and considered good – at least that it what it seems like in the creation story. When we only want to feel half or a portion of them and not others, then the question is why?
And when we start to shape the church to meet our wants and desires to avoid feeling certain emotions and feelings, then what exactly is happening? What does that mean for the church? What is the church becoming? And what are we saying about God? What place are we putting God in? When we start to shift the church away from it’s three fold focus of upward, inward, and outward, which embraces the full range of emotions and feelings in the service of God’s mission, to something else, what is the church at that point?
Is the church still the church when we purposefully shield it from discomfort? When we comfort the comfortable? When we afflict the afflicted? When we prevent change? When we maintain systems that aren’t as oriented towards justice as they could be out of convenience or habit? When we continue preferencing the status quo rather than hearing what would move us towards God’s implemented kingdom or the beloved community?
The church is an institution and a movement. A paradox. Like the kingdom of God – something already and not yet. It’s made up of people, so it’s messy. There are those who will resist and hold it back. And there will be those, like myself, who will push and prod and poke because if we don’t there won’t be forward progress. And I’ll say, none of us – whether those who are the biggest resisters to change or the biggest pushers of change – should ever assume that we are the standard speed with which change happens. We don’t get to see ourselves as the norm either. For one simple reason. Our eyes need to stay focused on why the church exists. It’s not about us and what we want. It’s about God and God’s mission. That’s why I’m hopeful for the church and its future.