By Tony Lin
I was talking to a pastor from Uruguay not too long ago. He started a Spanish speaking church in the West End and they have grown to the point that they need a place to worship. We were talking because I wanted to see if I could help him find a church through the Presbytery. During our conversation (in Spanish) I noticed that when we said the word “church” I always used the word “iglesia” (church) but he always used the word “templo” (temple). I though it was just a regional linguistic difference but after a few minutes of talking my friend said “Stop saying iglesia Tony, we already have a church. We just need a place to meet. We need a temple, a building, we have the church already.” As he said that I was convicted to realize that he had a more biblical and accurate understanding of church than I did.
According to the Bible, the church is not an organization or a building. It is always a group of people who profess and live out their salvation through faith alone, in Christ alone, as described in the Scripture alone. According to Acts 2:42 a church is a collection of people devoted to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bred and to prayer. According to the Bible my friend was right and I was convicted to realize how I, and so many Christians today, have an unbiblical understanding of church and specifically church membership. A careful reading of the Bible will reveal how much Jesus loves the church, His Body. In his final prayer, Jesus prayed not for the organized or institutional church, but for his followers. The actual church. Yet if Jesus loved the church so much, why do Christians love it so little? Institutional churches have shamefully loved their buildings and their organizations more than they have loved the members. In my experience, the majority of all the church-splitting controversies I have heard of happened as a result of loving the building, the organization and its tradition more than the people who fill it.
I was also convicted on the shallow understanding of what it means to be part of a church and why we even need to join a church. Committing yourself to a local group of believers is motivated by a call from God. Once committed, you are responsible to your fellow believers for the commitment you made. Biblical church membership has nothing to do birth rights or names on rolls. It has everything to do with commitment to a group of fellow believers. The church has always been filled with broken and sinful people. I will assure you that no matter what problems and sins you find at Providence, this church will never be as bad (or as good for that matter) as the church of Corinth. The church Jesus loved always included sinful and broken people. The fact that churches are filled with selfish hypocrites who gossip and tear down is no excuse for staying away from the Body of Christ. The church is for sick, not the perfect. When the early church gathered they were devoted to the Apostles’ teachings, they were learning and growing.
We now live in a time when the fear of commitments is rampant. This is evidenced by the decline of civic participation and the increasing number of people who choose to live together rather than to enter into a marriage covenant. The fear that we might miss out on something even greater if we promise to do something now is clear at every level of society. There are many factors that have led to creation of commitment-phobia. The highly individualistic society we live in, the globalized and highly mobile age where there is no longer a sense of a “home,” and the pragmatism of our, where we do the most practical and most convenient things in order to reach our goals. Add these together and you have a combination of a culture that is extremely hostile to Biblical Christianity. The rise of “church hoppers” or “church shoppers” has increased in recent years. It is not unusual for people to “shop” for churches in the same manner as they shop for clothes. Does it fit me? Will it keep me warm? Will I make a good statement with this? What will my friends and family think? People attend church today to serve a need, not to answer a Godly call.
The life of a Christian, as described in the bible is one of commitment and sacrifice. It speaks directly against the anti-commitment and practical culture of our days. Christians are to make a decision and stick with it. We are called to do the difficult things, to take the un-practical and costly roads. As we end 2008 and prepare to begin 2009 I invite all of you to join me in prayer and hope as Providence Presbyterian Church seek to better be the Church. Join us as we devote ourselves to the Apostles’ teachings, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayer. Join us as we do church.