Monday, May 11, 2009

the church

So, I'm on a bit of a roll tonight . . . second post . . . relating to the same book . . .
OK, so I just finished reading the book Simply Christian by N.T. Wright. It was a good read - not always an easy one, but good nonetheless (as may be evidenced by my feeling the need to use it in two posts in one night).

In the past while I've been wondering if we really understand what the church is supposed to be all about - if we really understand why it exists. In our consumeristic culture, we seem to have gotten caught up in the whole idea of just looking for what the church has to offer us, and maybe in the process, we have missed some of what church is really supposed to be.

The Bible makes it clear that the church is the Body of Christ, which would imply that we are to do more than just receive from it. The church is to be a community of believers who serve one another and the world around them. At least that's how I've always thought of it. Once again, I appreciated much what Wright had to say about this in his book Simply Christian.

"One central biblical way of saying much the same thing is to follow Paul and think of the church as the 'Body of Christ,' the single body in which every individual, and every local community is a limb or an organ. 'The body' is more than merely an image of unity-in-diversity; it's a way of saying that the church is called to do the work of Christ, to be the means of his action in and for the world. The tree, rooted in ancient Israel, standing straight up in Jesus, branching out with life in all directions, is to be the means of implementing his work, of making his achievement real in all the world.: (pg. 201)

If every person, every local community, is an organ or limb in the body, then it becomes pretty obvious that we need one another - that we need the support of community. But, the community is there, so that we go about the mission that Christ left us in this world. Namely that of bringing His Kingdom in the here and now, not of getting people saved so that they go to heaven when they die. The message we have been left with is so much more than that! And taking this message means we must go - not that we should always be looking for how the church can satisfy us.

I really appreciated Wright's explanation about why the church exists. This is a bit of a longer quote, but bear with me. I promise it's a good one.

"The church is first and foremost a community, a collection of people who belong to one another because they belong to God, the God we know in and through Jesus. Though we often use the word 'church' to denote a building, the point is that it's the building where this community meets. True, building can and do carry memories, and when people have been praying and worshipping and mourning and celebrating in a particular building for many years, the building itself may come to speak powerfully of God's welcoming presence. But it is the people who matter.
"The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world. You can and must worship, and work for God's kingdom, in private and in ways unique to yourself, but if God's kingdom is to go forward, rather than around and around in circles, we must work together as well as apart.
"The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship. . . .
"Worship, fellowship, and the work of reflecting God;s kingdom into the world flow into and out of one another." (pg 210-211)

The church is so much more than a building and what we can get out of going there. It is about the people of God meeting together in community to strengthen and encourage and pray with one another. And then moving out into the world to make a difference. Church is not primarily about us!

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