“This is a big old ship, Bill. She creaks, she rocks, she rolls, and at times she makes you want to throw up. But she gets where we’re going. Always has, always will, until the end of time. With or without you.” [i]
If you’ve been in church long enough you would probably smile and nod at J.F. Power’s comment quoted above. To say that the church is imperfect is a euphemism. But to walk away from church is silly, if you understand the nature of church. The church is made up by redeemed, but broken people. And therein lies the tension between the expectation of Christ-like perfection and the reality of sinful, selfish people. Church is messy, but church is glorious.
It is easy to get so busy with the activities, meetings and politics of church organization that one lose sight of the identity and nature of church. When that happens, these necessary activities drain the life and joy out of church life, and we miss the beauty we once knew within Christ’ community. So, what is church?
Simply put, church is GOD’S SPECIAL PEOPLE.
Church begins with God: a community created and chosen, redeemed and reconciled by God and for God. It is in every respect God’s Church – a God-owned people. Consequently, the church is and should be preoccupied with God and live God-conscious lives. Thus we are people who live in the fear of God – we live in the knowledge that he exists, he sees all things and he will judge every person. Moreover, because we are God-conscience we also live in hope because we know God hears every call and God saves everyone who cries out to him – we are not alone in this world! The church is a God-worshipping community that live in thankful response to Christ’s work of redemption and in constant awareness of God’s gracious providence. These thankful worshippers form a God-serving community who devote their lives on this earth to serve God’s His redemptive purpose, and a God-declaring people who preach the message of his coming kingdom. Most importantly, the church is God’s church because we are a God-abiding people, set aside by God to dwell in eternally. As such the church community is a God-empowered and God-revealing people through whom the world knows the loving and righteous character of our God.
a SPECIAL people
The church is a special community, a people chosen by God. We are God’s “ekklesia” – a posterity “called-out” by God, for God’s purposes. We are separate, not part of this world; set apart by God, for his delight. God has sanctified us for himself – we are holy to God, and unto God. As such we are a counter-cultural community living differently because we do not values this world or the things of this world. We are a special people because we are a people inhabited by God. The God of creation, the God of the universe has made his dwelling place among us. We have become an eternal community who live forever since the Eternal God has become our home, sharing his life with us.
no ordinary PEOPLE
The church is made up of people – humans who live ordinary lives here on earth. A gathering of redeemed, but still imperfect, broken, mortal people. But the church is God’s new race, God’s new humanity where there is no male or female, neither slave nor freeman, no distinction between Jew or Greek – a people who value life and identity in Christ more than economic, gender, race or education distinctions. We are more than mere mortals – the church is God’s new creation, the restored Eden, the New Jerusalem where God is always in her midst and he is her perpetual light. As Staney Grenz writes “the church is… a new humanity… who are seeking to point toward the future God has in store for creation.” [ii] With his presence among us and his Spirit transforming us into his image, the church is God’s own representation as we have become partakers his divine nature. Or as Grenz puts it “[we are an] ‘eschatological people,’ a company who ‘pioneer’ in the present what the future will be like.”[iii] The church is a foretaste of what the New Creation will be like when Christ returns.
But most importantly, the church is God’s own family – the privileged posterity who can rightly call him Dad as we have been born again of Him. As such we are his favored offspring, his beloved children who bring joy to his face. It is in the atmosphere of a local church that the loving nature and grace of God our Father is experienced and displayed. It is through his family – imperfect as the humans therein – that God chooses to make himself and his mission known. And that is the perpetual business of church: the gentle, purposeful redemption and restoration of individuals, families and society at large as God’s children go about representing the love of God our Father. That is the privileged of being part of church.
[i] J.F. Powers, Wheat that Springeth Green, (NYRB Classics, 1988)
[ii] Stanley Grenz, Created for Community, (Baker Academic, 1998), p207
[iii] Stanley Grenz, Created for Community, (Baker Academic, 1998), p213