Ok, quick! When I say, “church” what comes to mind? Did you picture a building? I would guess that 90% of you pictured a building. Or perhaps you pictured yourself inside the building singing or listening to a sermon. For the vast majority church is a place you go to on Sunday. We equate church with a building, a place to go for worship.
However, that was never the design of church. In the New Testament, the word for church is ekklēsia and it means the body or gathering of believers. When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Ephesus, it wasn’t addressed to 301 North 5th Street, Ephesus, Asia Minor 00065 AD It was always addressed to the people, the gathering of believers; the saints.
The wonderful thing about church being a gathering of believers is that other people comfort, encourage and build each other up. Of course, they also annoy, irritate and anger us. In fact, that’s why a lot of people stop going.
You might have heard it said that:
- Business would be easy if it weren’t for the customers.
- Managing would be easy if it weren’t for the employees.
- Working would be easy if it weren’t for managers.
Let’s add another. Church would be easy if it weren’t for the people.
A number of people I’ve spoken to this past year are bitter because of people from their church. They have an idealized expectation that church should be full of good people who always do good things. People with this expectation might think of Acts 2:42-44
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
Sound idyllic, doesn’t it? In a sense it was because of the great outpouring the God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. Yet, when we take in the whole of the New Testament, we see a fuller picture. Here are three quick examples:
- The apostles, James and John, tried to wheedle for the best position in heaven. (Mark 10:35-3)
- Paul accused Peter of being a hypocrite when dealing with the gentiles. (Galatian 2:11-21)
- The Corinthian church was full of problems such as, incest, idols, arguing over the “best” spiritual gifts, drunkenness, lawsuits, etc. (1st Corinthians)
The list can go on and on. It turns out that the church is made up of very flawed and imperfect people. Church is for the flawed and broken which, as far as I can tell is everyone.
As followers of Jesus we are called to a higher standard of life but that does not mean that once you join a church that you are somehow perfect. In fact, as you hear and study God’s word, you are confronted with the holiness and majesty of Jesus so that in his light our flaws become ever more apparent. When you see more clearly the depths of your own sin, you begin to understand the depth and necessity of grace. When you understand the necessity of grace and let it sink into your very soul, you start to see that others are also in need of this same grace. Humility replaces your pride as you realize that you are as broken as those who annoy, irritate and anger you.
Through Jesus and His church, we learn to love even when love is not returned. Through His word and His sacrifice we learn to forgive. Through Him and His church, we are conformed into His image.
When you stop thinking of church as a building and start to think of church as a body of believers who are being sanctified in Christ Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit you will understand why you need church.