What is the Church?

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on church, the Church, and churchy stuff lately. I haven’t had any earth moving revelations, but I have realized a lot about myself in the process.

First: I’m pretty selfish.

I want to me to feel good.

Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should all be in a community that values them, enriches and cares about and for them.

But, the Church is what we make it. What I make it. What you make it. The church is not a building, a person, or a group of leaders. We (collectively) are the Church. We need each other. We need to give and receive the gifts, grace, and hope that we have received from God and others.

But I’m more inclined to come, do my bit and leave. Why is that? When I look at the early church in the book of Acts, I see a community drawn together out of wonder, love and necessity. Is that why I come?

Wonder: the early believers saw the power of healing, and the changed lives of the apostles. They were drawn to the different-ness of this community, who lived and loved as no community ever had or has since. There was power. There was grace. There was peace. They experienced real community together, in fellowship, worship, prayer and service. Is that why I come to church?

Love: the early believers didn’t go to church, they were the Church. They lived in constant fellowship, spiced with prayer and worship as a regular part of their daily lives. They knew and were known. They were open, honest and vulnerable with each other. They shared joy, pain, struggle, forgiveness and money. They exuded love. It was a part of their DNA. Their community was based on the practical and supernatural effects of love. Is that why I come to church?

Necessity: The Acts church was the minority. They were ridiculed, oppressed, killed and tortured. When they gathered, it was at great personal risk. Why did they do it? It would have been so much easier to keep their faith at home, and live a private faith existence. The reality is the early church came together because they needed to be together. They couldn’t face that kind of opposition without the encouragement, support and sense of belonging that is found in real community. They needed each other the way a brick needs mortar and other bricks to make a wall. It was a source of power. It was a place of healing. It was a light. Is that why I come to church?

I wish the answer to all these was yes, but like I said, I’m pretty selfish. I come because it feels good, I have friends here, and in my case it’s my job to be there. Do I believe all the stuff I just wrote? Of course! So why do I come to church in such a self-seeking way?

I think part of it is our cultural moment. We are enlightenment-drenched modern Western people. We are products of capitalism and the American dream. I am an entitled, fickle, whiny person in a society where that is normal and encouraged.

“You go out and get what’s yours.”

“Name it and claim it”

“God helps those who help themselves”

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make something for yourself”

“If life is hard, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough”

These are typical American sentiments, which are not based in Scripture, and cause more harm than good.

Now it would be easy for me to go into why we need a different attitude, and how we need to change our culture from the inside out, and that may be true. But I have noticed recently that there is a bigger problem. I see it in my own life, I see it in the church, I see it in our culture.

In my writing above about what the church should be, I feel I was pretty inspiring and compelling. But there’s a problem. What’s missing in my description? Or who is missing?

Jesus.

There was no mention of Jesus at all.

Go ahead, go back and look. No Jesus. The sad thing, is that wasn’t on purpose to make a point. I noticed as I was rereading what I had read. And that’s the problem.

I feel like the church today believes they can have a great community without Jesus. They would never say it in as many words, but the culture of self-help and community focused living has replaced the need for Jesus.

I’m guilty of this, I admit. As a songwriter, for a long time I felt uncomfortable using the name Jesus in my songs. Why? I love Jesus, I do my best to follow Him, I think that His life is the best life possible, and His teachings are the most compelling way to live. Why wouldn’t I put His name in a song? Was I ashamed? No. Was I a heretic? Hopefully not, but who knows?

I honestly felt it wouldn’t add anything to the song. That’s it. “Eh, everyone knows I’m talking about Him, why name Him?” Man it feels awful to admit that, but that was my subconscious reason for a long time. I actually wrote a song specifically to include Jesus’ name on purpose because I knew I had avoided it for a long time. You can listen to it here.

And that attitude is what I see in the church. When we go, do we go to experience Jesus? Or a nice time of fellowship and inspiration that we associate with Jesus, but don’t think He adds much to the equation?

I tell you what; when the church is a place where Jesus is known and experienced in real ways, it becomes the Light of the World. Read Isaiah 60, where the nations of the world are drawn to the Light to come and offer their best. What in the world could cause the nations of the world to do that? Definitely not a social club. Not even a group of really good people.

Only the power of Christ, His death and resurrection, and a community obsessed with His love and grace can have the power, endurance, motivation, and resources to be the Light that is so needed in the world. This is what the Church is. The body of Christ, hopelessly dependent on His grace and love, and endlessly bringing Light to the darkest places in the world gathering in wonder, love and necessity. Is that why I come to church?

I want that.

Why do you come to church? Or why don’t you?

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