What Does It Mean to “Be the Church”?

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Many talk about the church. It seems everyone has an opinion, even if that opinion is: it’s not worth having an opinion. But through all the talk and opinion and emotion and preference, all too often, “church” does not mean what many people think it means.

Religious matters are funny. Much of our culture believes that religion and theology are subjective truths, if they can even be considered truths at all. Even Christians operate with a form of this “hands-off” theology. What I mean is, many people develop their own method of doing faith that keeps others at arm’s length and effectively invalidate anything that would challenge the “truths” they have developed for themselves – a system of truth that they are comfortable with. We say things like, “for me, this verse means…” or “I like to think of God like…” or (even worse) “God and I have an understanding.”

Friends, we cannot do faith and life in this way. To know Christ and to come into His kingdom means to surrender to His lordship and to delight in His glory. We cannot do life, faith, or theology in isolation. We cannot approach Him on our own terms or walk with Him by our own understanding. We need one another.

A local church is dsigned to be a faith family, but like all families, there is always a measure of dysfunction. However, our imperfections and idiosyncrasies become the necessary context from which we learn to show love, extend mercy, and demonstrate patience – and (in so doing) we experience what it means for God to have done the same for us.

We learn more about the love of God when we are challenged to forgive those who have hurt us, accept those who are different than us, and defer to those around us. We grow to understand His grace as we invest in those who are learning and show patience to those who are struggling. Striving in faith together, our church family becomes a gospel laboratory where we explore the richness of every “one another” command in Scripture.

If we choose only learn from those who agree with us, what are we really learning? If we only worship according to our preferences, who is really the focus of our worship? If we only surround ourselves with those who are in our demographic, can we ever understand the real depths of God’s love?

When we operate from a consumer mentality and demand that our church (or a prospective church) meets our demands and caters to our comforts and fits our preferences, then we do not understand what it means to “be the church.”

The church is not a building, an organization, or a service club. The local church is to be a family, united in a common faith and given to a common purpose for the glory of God. The local church is visible only when gathered – a time that should be precious and powerful. We are interdependent and therefore mutually invested in one another’s lives. When we are not gathered, we remain connected, representing our family and honoring our Savior in every individual endeavor.

This is why our faith, while deeply personal, is not private. This truth flies in direct opposition to our culture, so biblical faith must transcend cultures.

A spiritual family should not divide over worldly disagreements. Eternal kingdoms cannot fight over temporal concerns. A holy people must not fracture over secular allegiances. The love we have for our Savior and for one another should be the chief and predominant banners that fly over our lives.

There is so very much more to say on this topic, way too much for a brief article. Indeed, this topic would take a lifetime to explore and would require an entire community to discover. But, then again, I believe that is by design… and that’s just the point.

If there is anything I can do to help you explore what biblical community looks like, please start a conversation: leave a comment or reach out at theologybill@gmail.com. I hope you are having a great week.

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