What if the people of God actually believed the central doctrines that bind them together? Continuing from my last post, I want to ask this question, beginning with the core values of the church that I work for, but ultimately dreaming about the church as a whole. I want to see a people, united by God, come to full belief in the things of God, so as a personal exercise of hope and reflection, I want to draw out these lines of thought. The question I will go from today is: what if the church was devoted to covenant community?
Every now and then I’ll be talking to a friend, and the subject of church attendance comes up. It usually goes something like: “I haven’t been to church in a while, I’ve just been too busy.” or “I’ve got too much homework/ a quiz next week/ reading to catch up on (I’m in college).” And then the subject will change and everyone acts like that’s just a normal part of being a student, or a business man or woman, or a parent. Life gets cluttered, and sometimes you’ve got to cut things out. What I’m really hearing in these conversations goes more along the lines of: “I don’t value the body of Christ above other things in my life, i.e. school, work, sleep, etc.” Don’t get me wrong, life DOES get cluttered, and sometimes there are genuine reasons you just can’t make it on Sunday morning, or to your community group on a Thursday night. Most of the time this isn’t the case though, we are just too lazy or don’t value it enough to prioritize meeting together with believers to worship the living God.
Why prioritize church?
First let’s establish something that is commonly misunderstood: you are the church. The church of God is not a building, it is not a particular denomination, it is not based on a specific speaker or theologian. The church of God is the people of God gathered under the command of God to worship God, and Jesus is the head of that Church. We are the body, and we gather to express the glory of God through all aspects of our life. When we neglect our commitment to meet with, love, and encourage our fellow believers, we are neglecting our role as the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) The writer of Hebrews addresses this issue directly, that some are in the habit of neglecting their Christian community, when we are called to meet together and spur one another toward love and good deeds. Jesus himself valued his community greatly. His twelve disciples were with him everywhere he went, and larger groups of people followed him everywhere he went in addition to the twelve (Luke 9-10). In addition, when he was preparing to go to the cross, he commanded them to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Obviously, Jesus valued community, and built it into an essential role in his life and ministry. If Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), made this a priority, shouldn’t we as his followers mimic him in this?
What is Covenant Community?
Covenant Community is simply believers in Christ gathered in the name of Christ, united by the blood of Christ. In Matthew 18:20 Jesus tells his followers “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This is in the church building and outside of it. If you do not have a Christian community which you are actively investing in, learning from, and on mission with, you are missing out on a phenomenal part of the body of Christ. My community is where I receive accountability, intercession (prayer), comfort in hard times, rejoicing in the good times, and all around encouragement to press on in the faith. We see a beautiful example of this in Acts 2:42-47, rightly titled in my Bible the fellowship of the believers:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Why go on Sunday morning?
Another thing I hear fairly often is the “I just don’t like the institution of the church, I have some Christian friends, and I can read the Bible for myself.” I disagree with the whole, “I can be a Christian all by myself” thing. Yes, you can have a saving faith and not be participating in a formal church body, but that is not how God designed us. From the very beginning, God desired us to be able to share in the experiencing of His glory with other people. “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
I hope you do read the Bible for yourself, I think that reading God’s word and letting it rule your life is an essential practice for the Christian, and that should take place all week long, not just on Sunday or Wednesday. That being said, the role of the formal organization of the church is largely to teach and equip the believers. Pastors go to school to learn theology, and spend a lot of time crafting a message in order to effectively teach their people right belief and encourage them towards following God’s word more effectively. In Acts 8 we see a cool story where Philip, one of the disciples, is walking along the road, and he hears this guy reading the Bible. So Philip goes up to him and asks him “Do you understand what you are reading?” and the man replies, “How can I, unless someone comes and explains it to me?” Then Philip explains this Old Testament scripture to him, and uses it to explain the Gospel, and the guy believes and gets baptized right there on the spot (Acts 8:30-38). I love this story 1. because this guy gets saved and that’s a miracle in itself, but 2. because this man is so humble in his interaction with Philip. He isn’t prideful about it, he doesn’t try to act like he has some higher understanding of scripture, or as if he doesn’t need the help of someone else to understand. He openly accepts the help and views of someone who offers him teaching on scripture, admitting that his view of scripture is not the only one, and openly hearing the thoughts of others about it. If you only ever view the Bible through your one perspective, you are cutting yourself off from the spiritual depth and wisdom that other people are offering through their own lives, revelations, and past learning. Always double check what others tell you about scripture, don’t go blindly accepting everything people say (there are some weirdos out there), but humbly admit that your mind is not the great omnipotent source of knowledge that we can convince ourselves we have sometimes, and hear other people with love.
But the Church has hurt me before.
I love the church. I believe that it is an essential part of spiritual growth and development, and its encouraging to join with others in praising God and seeing other people trying to live for God. At the same time, I am aware that many people have been burned by the church in the past. For those people I have to say on behalf of the church, I am truly sorry. Church organizations are run by imperfect people, and they will fail you. My encouragement to you is that we should not place our hope in the church, but in the perfect God whom the church exists to glorify. He is the only One who is worthy of our complete trust and worship, and though men will fail you, He will not. The church is a body of broken people, united by God to glorify God, and that is why we gather.
My hope is that people would turn to Jesus, and let Him redeem their view of His church, and that we could praise Him and look forward to the day when we are in heaven, no longer broken and imperfect, glorifying Christ together as His bride.
Please join me in praying for a redeemed view of the church as the body of Christ! Pray for the people of God to enter into the covenant community that we are called to and to be unified by the blood of Christ.