“This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).
In the spring of 1970 the Army stationed my Father in Germany. There he met a German fellow who liked America more than his own nation. He wore U.S. styled clothing, listened to American music, drove a Dodge Charger, and loved any American he would meet. It seems odd that a German would drive around his homeland celebrating America.
I believe Christians suffer from a similar problem. As Christians, we are part of the church, the bride of Christ. God calls us to be an active part of His church (Hebrews 10:25). Yet like that German who did not prefer his German culture, many Christians do not prefer the church and seek to replace it with all kinds of things. A quick list would include watching religious television programs, listening to podcasts or Christian radio, reading books, or taking trips to the mountains to try to find God on their own. These things are not wrong and can be valuable at times, but none of them can replace the church.
Some Christians have replaced the church altogether in their lives. This happens frequently in America where consumerist ideas abound. In our consumerist society, churches supposedly exist to win over people by making sure they feel all their needs are met. This approach to the church is selfishness, not Christianity. In a manner of speaking, the church has become like Burger King, where you can “have it your way.” Thinking of that German fellow, whether he got it his way or not, Germany was still his home. And whether Christians get it their way or not, the church is still their home.
Although the Burger King approach to church is appealing, when it comes to Christ’s church the Bible guides us as to what the church is and why it exists. There are three definitions of church in the Bible:
a. “A group of citizens assembled for socio-political activities, (assembly, gathering).” Long before this term was used in Christian Scripture it was commonly used in the ancient world to refer to gatherings of people, political or otherwise. This is not the church.
b. “The totality of congregations of Christians.” Within the pages of our Bible we see “church” used infrequently to refer to all Christian congregations worldwide. In one verse we see Jesus using “church” as such, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).
c. “A congregation of Christians, implying interacting membership (congregation, church)” (These are the three citations given for ekklhsi÷a in Louw & Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. Accordance 10.4 (May 2014). The semantic domain numbers for the citations are: 11.78, 11.33, 11.32). In the Bible this idea is frequently communicated with the word “church.” This is the local church, and this is where we find ourselves.
Based on the third definition, let’s bring some focus to what Christ’s church is and is not. The church is not a building, nor is it a building or campus with stained glass, pews, a cross, a baptistry, and a steeple. The church is not a community prayer meeting, a television program, a Bible study, a favorite spot outdoors, a sermon read or heard anywhere, or just another civic club. The church is “a congregation of Christians” who interact as members of that local congregation (Louw & Nida, 11.32).
In the Bible there are only active participants in the church. God commands us to “... consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another...” (Hebrews 11:24-25). Church is not about “having it your way” but about giving yourself to benefit your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is about encouraging others and building others up for the glory of Christ.
The Bible also teaches that Christ died for the church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). The fact that He was willing to die for it tells us how important the church is to Jesus Christ. To be sure, I love our building (and its stained glass and steeple), our National Day of Prayer meetings, hiking in the hills, hearing preaching in any place, and 4-H. But Jesus didn’t die for buildings, hobbies, the National Day of Prayer, 4-H, or any community club or event. Jesus died for the church. And He loves his congregants who interact with one another. He prizes His body, the church. Do you?
Remember that German fellow who preferred America over Germany? That was his choice, but Germany was still his home. Dear Christian, if you have not done so already, go home. Perhaps you are reading this and have not met with the church you belong to in quite some time, I plead with you to go back to interact, grow in Christ, and encourage other believers. Come home to God’s family. Wherever you find yourself please settle into one of Jesus’ congregations. God designed you to be a part of a church so that you can grow into the person that Christ wants you to be. Remember, there is no replacement for person-to-person fellowship. There is no replacement for joining together in prayer with other believers. There is no other way that you can serve one another or sing praises together with a common confession, family, eldership, ministry, and Spirit than by being part of a congregation of Christians. You may not always “have it your way,” but it doesn’t matter because the church is much better than “my way” or “your way.” The church is simply heaven on earth.