In the first century, when people became followers of Christ, they did so well aware of the cost (Luke 14:28). Ready to be crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20), they took up their cross (Matt 10:38) and bore the burdens (Gal 6:2) of their brothers and sisters.
They anticipated a fellowship of devotion to the teachings of Jesus (Acts 2:42), which pointed them to an unmitigated love toward one another (John 15:12) and allowed them to be a part of a new community, or rather a new vibrant, loving family.
Fast forward two thousand years, and we seem to experience something different. Unintentionally, but surely, we have reduced what God designed to function as a family down to a weekly, optional event. We think of church as what we do instead of who we are.
The tragic implications are subsequently worked out in an apathetic, non-committal attitude towards our brothers and sisters in Christ, and those who need us in our communities (the elderly, the widows, the orphans, the homeless).
This misfortune struck my heart when I became a follower of Christ and quickly realized that few (very few) people shared my enthusiasm to give everything to Jesus. While I still have my battles of apathy, it was still exceedingly clear that most people were more interested in going to the church service and going home without any real involvement or concern for, pretty much, anything or anyone else.
For me, questions began to surface: Is this it? Is this why I was saved, to go to church services? Is there not something more to this? Am I missing something? I’m reading in the bible about a new and vibrant community that I’m supposed to experience, so why does everyone only care for themselves? Everything felt so, wrong.
I quickly realized that the majority of the people that were going to church were doing it risk-free from any obligations other than their weekly attendance. I realized that so many people get trapped in a mindless routine.
They come to church like it’s a car wash for their soul.
They come to get a fix rather than to serve.
They come with their lives fully intact and well organized rather than being needy for Christ and his forgiveness.
They come with control and perfection rather than with broken spirits and repentance. They come to add value to their already, enriched life.
It was troubling to me because I found no place in the Scriptures that described what we are currently doing in church. Over time we’ve made church something we do rather than who we are. We meet together and call it “going to church.” The Bible says that we ARE church (Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 12:20, Eph 3:6, 4:15-16, 5:23, Col 1:18, 1:24).
The church functions as a body, with many working (emphasis added) parts of a whole. This (at least) implies we all use our gifts and talents to contribute to the functioning of that body, and every believer should be helping somehow.
It also implies that we are known and defined by our love for Christ, one another, and others (John 13:35). The world should be shocked at how unbelievably loving we are to one another. Meaning, we should always be the most generous and the most compassionate people in the room, not only for humanitarian reasons, but ultimately to give God glory and worship.
We should be setting the pace of service. If we’re not, then who should be?
As the body of Christ, what are we expected to do, and who are we expected to be?
Love one another. (John 15:12)
We are expected to love our brothers and sisters in Christ with a humility and passion that is representative of Christ and the way he gave himself for us, lowering himself beneath the point of a slave to the wash the feet of his brothers. How powerful our witness would be if the world saw us eager to put ourselves under one another, and to count everyone else’s needs more significant than our own (Phil 2:3).
Take care of those in need. (James 1:27)
There are women who need us, and there are foster children who need families to open their homes for this type of service and love. What better way to show the love of Christ than to facilitate the needs of orphans and widows? If only one family from each church in Arkansas opened their homes for this service, the foster care system wouldn’t exist.
Make disciples. (Matthew 28:19)
We are learners of Christ who make and develop other learners of Christ, and I’m confidently stating that this implies exceedingly more than our church attendance on Sunday. I’m seeing passionate men and women who are fired up about discipleship. I see organizations like Downline providing this service. My question is, why do we have to have 3rd party organizations that facilitate discipleship?
Bear one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2)
The easiest thing we can do is to run into someone who needs something or someone. The hardest thing to do is love and care for that person so much that it costs us our time, energy, or money. Yet this is what Jesus commands of his body. This is what he taught; this is how he lived. He served and bore the burdens of others. How can we call ourselves CHRISTians and not live as servants?
Romanticizing the early church is a tendency that some of us make an ill habit of doing, and this is not a robust way of thinking about the church. They had their problems like we have ours. The point, however, is reform. We always need to come back to the Scriptures to live out what God commands rather than what our traditions dictate. Traditions are good, but they are not good when they are elevated above God’s commandments.
How can we get back to the fundamental idea that we are the church, called to use our gifts in contribution to the body? We’re called to serve and to love each other, called to bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters, and to make devoted learners of Jesus as we live and move throughout our lives.
Church is not something we just do; it’s who we are. It’s the new heart and mind, the new humanity that we carry with ourselves every moment of the day, every day of the week. It is an active, moving, functioning body of which we are a part of, which we are contributing to with the gifts that God has given us. It is a living organism of love and service to others, a representation of Christ and his body, as he is the head, giving it power and mobility, leading its every move.
As his body, we no longer have the claim on our own lives, but rather submit to his graceful rule in our lives and walk in step with his will for the salvation of humanity. God is using us to spread the message of Christ, and we are honored to take part in his movement and to be included in his plan. But only if we have regular rhythms of sacrificial love that characterizes our choices and lifestyle will we be included. Because, “If anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.”
Many come in and out of buildings, but it’s something entirely different to be crucified with Christ.