Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Power of ONE: The Church

This blog is a response to the current sermon series at Newbreak Church. To watch the message, you can log on to Newbreak's website and watch ONE: One Direction

When I was a kid, we went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. If there was a special event or we sang in the choir, we went again.

And that was it. Church-related activities took place in the church.  Well, we were supposed to read the Bible and pray everyday, but mostly I just felt guilty because I didn't.

A few years ago, people started saying, "Don't just go to church; be the church."

In other words, don't just learn more about God with other people who already believe in God; instead, serve people outside church. Serve your community. Hand out water. Feed the homeless. Clean the canyons. Do something.

Going to church is good. Going to church gives us the opportunity to worship God with other Christ followers.  Hebrews 10:25 instructs followers of Jesus Christ to gather together in order to "inspire each other to greater love and to righteous deeds." When we go to church, we hear God's Word proclaimed and explained, and we're challenged to follow Christ in our daily lives.

Being the church, or serving the community, is also good--and essential. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes the end of days, when he gathers together the nations. He separates people into two categories, those who have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, nursed the sick, and visited prisoners. He honors those who lived lives of service and rejects those who did not, saying,"whenever you saw a brother hungry or cold, when you saw a sister weak and without friends, when you saw the least of these and ignored their suffering, so you ignored me." If we don't serve the people around us, we are missing a vital part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

And so both of these actions, going to church and being the church, are biblical.
And although they both use the same word: church, they are using the word in two different ways. When we say, "go to church," the word church denotes a place. When I say, "be the church," the word church denotes a certain type of behavior representative of service.  Quite frankly, I'm not sure how to define the word church when used this way.

Definitions matter. Otherwise we're using the same words, but we're talking about two entirely different things, which is bound to result in misunderstanding or disagreement.

To clarify discussions, we need to make sure we're talking about the same things.
How should we define the word church?  More importantly, what definition can we form by examining the way the New Testament uses the word church? What is it? How does it function? What is its purpose?

This discussion could fill a book (and many books have been written to address these questions), and blog format is adequate to fully explore the topic; nevertheless, I do want to join the discussion.

In Ephesians, Paul describes the church as the " body of Christ." This is a beautiful image; Christ is the head, and we are are all united functioning together as his hands and his feet. Just as our physical bodies were designed to work together rather than individually, Christ's body is designed to function today. We are not individuals in the body of Christ; we are a team. Christ is the head, and we are his body, responding to his direction, working in conjunction with each other.

My two hands can do different things at the same time, but they must all work toward the same purpose, moving in the same direction, at the same time. Think of it a pianist. Each hand, even each finger, plays different keys, sometimes separately, sometimes together. Individually, the effect isn't that exciting, but together, the music can be incredible. Each digit works with the others to achieve melodies and harmonies and rhythms. The feet work the pedals to sustain notes. All parts, even other parts I have not discussed, are essential.

This is the body of Christ. We need each other. Individually, we are fairly insignificant. Together we can do magnificent things.

And so we gather together regularly, at least once a week, to make sure we are moving in the same direction, learning the same things, working toward the same purpose. That's the "go to church" part. And then we work together toward that purpose. That's the "be the church" part.

Together we worship God, glorifying His name, Together we illustrate the power of unity. Together we embody His heart of love and service. Together we show the power of Christ, that so many individuals can humble themselves and allow the power of God to empower them.

I can go to church without being part of the church, and I can do good things on my own without being the church. The goal is to be part of the body of Christ, something I will probably be learning my entire life.

Of note, this sermon series is specifically about Newbreak church, but there when the New Testament speaks of the body of Christ, it is describing the entire body of believers. I've never heard this discussed before, but I wonder if perhap each individual church body could be described as a part of the larger body. If that is the case, then we must learn how to work together in a unified way to glorify the name of God.