The last chapter of my forthcoming book is titled “Tying up the loose ends”. Here I discuss “Church”.
When I refer to the Church (as opposed to churches), I usually do not have in mind buildings or clubs, but rather those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ with sincere hearts. Sadly, many “churchy” people are not real Christians and do not belong to the Church. The prayer Jesus prayed just before he was arrested and put to death – “I pray for them … that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17v9, 21) – has yet to be fully realised. My hope is to see entirely different people become as one. I’ve seen glimpses but the actuality will be awesome and the breakthroughs that will follow will be astounding. While there is a role for Israel, the Church is God’s chosen instrument to bless the world. Some time in the future (Revelation 19 relates) there will be the marriage between Christ and the Church followed the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God. To serve in the community is important, and to do so with likeminded people. My hope is the Church take a lead in this as well as going about its business of mission and discipling, has at best been part realised. My heart is the Church fulfil her God given potential and live as salt and light in the world. This should be intrinsically linked with spreading the Christian message throughout the whole world and making disciples who wholeheartedly follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout my Christian life, I have heard well-meaning Christians exhort other Christians to throw their lot in with the local church and usually they had in mind one or other Christian fellowship, without which one becomes like a coal that has been removed from a blazing fire. I have reflected long and hard about which church is best and know none are perfect and, if I found one that is, I should leave it. It is a place for sinners to be saved and grow in grace, not to put on “holy” airs. I see good and bad in most fellowships and sadly the signs of apostacy is becoming all to prevalent and the notion of a remnant meeting in people’s homes is an all too real one. I have seen many Christians give up on “church”, sometimes because of backsliding but also disappointed at the corruption they see in church. My advice is go where God is honoured and seems to be working, and where you are welcome and can contribute, including encouraging others, but don’t expect too much, although you should expect to find a spiritual home. Let your approach to others be winsome, with denominational labels being of secondary importance. For many, the church they end up in was as a result of an accident, circumstance, where one happens to be at the time or where one feels most comfortable with.
While I have a sense of trepidation as to what might happen in the near future, given some of the unsavoury happenings going on in all sorts of situations and in the light of pressure on and persecution of Christian people the world over, I am confident too that it will turn out glorious in the end, and that God’s perfect plan will be enacted. Right now, I feel the opposition toward Christians, especially the more earnest types, and that should cause us to turn even more so to God in trust and dependence. For those in the UK, while we might not be physically attacked, there can be insidious pressure to conform to anti-Christian ideology and pay the price if we don’t. While I can look at the church in my own country with a tinge of sadness, e.g. dwindling congregations, compromise and lack of spiritual life and effectiveness in mission (although I sense change), we see the reverse in some countries, especially the less well off, where churches are experiencing real growth. My sadness is that my own country has rejected God and is paying the price in terms of calamities that have befallen us, including natural disasters. When trying to apply the message of the Hebrew prophets to the here and now, it should be with the thought “judgment begins in the house of God”. In the words of a Charles Wesley hymn, we should pray: “Oh, that in me the sacred fire might now begin to glow, burn up the dross of base desire … and sanctify the whole!”
To individual Christians, I would say that you are a member of the Church if you are a follower of Christ. This includes being a unique and essential part of His Body, which is joined to other body parts. You are part of the Bride of Christ which has been betrothed to the Bridegroom, who is Christ. You are also part of a great building that is inhabited by the Spirit of God and founded on Christ the cornerstone. I would add that in order to follow these ideas through you need to try and relate to other Christians, typically through one or other local church, but not to exclude the other groupings. There is always room for individuals with a good heart, who don’t just adopt the status quo, but we are most effectively employed when we relate to other Christians. I would urge church leaders to encourage such folk (including weak and wavering); accept your congregation is not the local church, but rather part of it, and the Lord works in mysterious ways.
I am reminded of the old adage: “unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things. Jesus word to his followers is to “love one another” John 13:24. For me, the necessary things start with recognizing the person of Christ (perfect humanity and divinity combined), the need to preach faith and repentance and the historical truth that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” 2Corinthians 15:3,4. We who follow Jesus should be loving God and our neighbor, and also to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” Jude 1:3. Much more can be said about Church – just don’t give up on it! Like Israel of old and still to happen, the Church (not church) is God’s instrument to bring about his purposes in the world and “this is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” Ephesians 5:32.