The Church: The Bride of Christ and a Gospel-Centered Community of Faith, or a Christian Social Club?
Those of us who have (from an early age) spent our lives being active in Church life know that, as committed disciples of Jesus Christ, this endeavor can be a challenging, growing, difficult, learning and, yes, even a fun, joy-filled experience. These facts provide a snapshot into the reasons why many of us have been showing up at Holy Communion Anglican Church for the service of Holy Eucharist, week-after-week for just about a year now! We deeply desire to live the Christian life together with others who (in this very often hostile world) dare to let it be publicly known that they are Believers in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of the world.
Personally, I have, countless times, found that consistently gathering for divine worship with my sisters and brothers in Christ, folks who are generally experiencing life at the same harried pace as I am, is a tremendous source of comfort. Indeed, Sunday’s holy time is that greatly anticipated weekly appointment for me to catch my breath, reset my bearings and realize that I just may not be totally crazy after all! Faithfully attending church on the Sabbath and gathering with the royal priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9) in our collective encountering of the real presence of Jesus in Word and Sacrament is THE place where I am known and accepted by my fellow redeemed Christians and (most importantly) by our Triune God Himself. This is, as the Scripture says, tov meod – that is, “very good” (see Genesis 1:31).
Yet, if you cannot relate to my personal church realities as I have articulated in the above paragraph, it perhaps just might be a clear indicator that your church experience is not really all that it should or could be. For even while participating in something you and others may truly find satisfactory – the social gathering of a community of affection on a Sunday morning – there is the potential that you could be missing the most important aspect of the Universal Church’s mission – the Gospel itself – that is, making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded (see Matthew 28:19-20).
Over the years, I have several times read through Saint Luke’s companion work to his gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, a discipline which has often caused me to wrestle with this lingering question: What is ultimately at the heart of congregational life? In retrospection, I’ve come to the following conclusion regarding this question: that most all church attenders fall into one of two categories: either you are (1) a person who believes the Congregation to be a gospel-centered community that “equip(s) the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12); or you are (2) a person who gives little if any thought (ever!) to the eternal destiny of lost souls and, therefore, prefer to see your Sunday efforts as a kind of participation in a Christian social club.
I am quite sure that what I have written immediately above may seem a bit harsh to some folks, but evidence indicates that whenever “Believers” meet Sunday after Sunday for a significant period, they will inevitably associate with those who gather on one side of the (above mentioned) fence or the other. People either move toward a preference of social priority or to a gospel-centered intensity of sharing the Good News of God in Christ.
Let me be clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a great group of friends “in Christ.” However, hanging out with so-called “Christian” friends is in and of itself not enough to produce consistent, fruit-bearing, spiritual growth (see Galatians 5:22-24). Here are some facts that are always true about any local church:
- A Congregation is either seeking God’s immutable Truth together as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, or it is not.
- A Congregation is either seeking to allow the person of Jesus to be at the center of the essence of its collective being, or it is not.
- A Congregation is either engaging with Jesus in his Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, allowing that encounter to transform the entirety of their hearts and minds, or it is not.
- A Congregation is either inviting the Holy Spirit to work miraculously in the lives of each of its baptized members, or it is not.
Beloved, I write these words in February 2021 not as some legalistic attempt to make you more religious. Rather, I do so in order to ask that if you are truly a Believer, while on your knees in adoration you submit everything you are, everything you do, everything you own, every gift of talent you possess, and everything (of joy or sorrow) you face in life – at the feet of Jesus.
A “gospel-centered church” is focused on exactly what the name suggests – the overt intention and practice of placing the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of the Congregation’s very reason for being. Ultimately, being a truly devout Christian is all about making Jesus the central focus of everything in your life: all your friendships, your decision making, your parenting (and grandparenting), the stewardship of your talents and treasures – all in pursuit of God’s perfect Truth. For those of us who unconditionally accept that we are truly called to be a disciple, the transforming work of Jesus must be brought to bear in every single aspect of our lives – the good, the bad, and even what from a worldly viewpoint would appear to be mundane and indifferent.
Does the above paragraph describe your expectation of congregational life? Or does a preoccupation with Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and a plethora of ideas from Pinterest sound more like it? Are hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ audaciously proclaimed and receiving the grace-filled, very body and blood of Christ in the most Holy Sacrament the ultimate reasons you make the effort to go to church on Sunday? Is that faithful receiving of the latter what fuels you for your life in the world the lies before you in the week to come? Or is mere social interaction, casual conversation, and “Christian” friendships the true heart of the reason you “go to church”?
Please do not think that this article is my anti-friendship, anti-laughter, or anti-fun rant; rather I ask you to respectfully accept it as a challenge to consider what is truly at the center of your participation (or perhaps for some of you reading this even your lack thereof) in the life of the Church – Christ’s Holy Bride (see Ephesians 5:25-27). It is true – we all desire and need genuine “Christian” friendships as well as fun-loving interaction – but we need to inwardly digest the Gospel in Word and Sacrament far more! Now that is a Truth that is indeed tov meod – “very good.”