What In The World Is The Church?
When people think of “church,” they tend to think of a couple things that are not actually “the church” at all. They might think of the buildings where Christians gather for worship, or maybe the event that happens on Sunday mornings inside those buildings. If someone says, “I’m going to church”—they might mean both.
The church is actually the people who gather in those buildings, though. The Bible talks about “the church” as the family of God, the body of Christ, the assembly of the saints and the congregation of God.
How Do I Get In?
The way a person becomes part of the church is the same way a person becomes a Christian—they hear the promise of the Gospel and begin to understand that the promise is actually for them. The individual person begins to have faith in Jesus Christ and in that moment they are adopted into the family of God—Jesus becomes their brother and they become a beloved child of their Heavenly Father. Just like when a child is born, the Christian has an immediate family (the local church), close relatives (other churches in the same denomination), distant relatives (Christians in other denominations—like cousins you don't ever talk to), and ancestors who have died (heaven is populated with those who have gone before us.)
This is all the work of the Holy Spirit, and in their baptism, they become a member of the "one holy universal" church across time and space.
But What Is It?
So, the church is a family, but another way to understand the church is to think of it as the “body of Christ.” The Bible talks about how Jesus is the Head of the church and we are all the members of His body—each serving a distinct and important purpose for the life and function of the church. This is important to understand because it's the church that continues the work of Jesus in the world by making disciples, baptizing, and teaching them all the things Jesus commanded His people to do. The church is to serve and bless the world by living out our various callings and spiritual gifts, empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit, emboldened by our thankful joy, and determined by our faith in Jesus to live faithfully.
"It’s through the local church that Jesus becomes the hope for the world."
It’s through the local church that Jesus becomes the hope for the world. What people think of as the "event" of church is the single most important thing that happens on earth (which sounds incredibly bold, doesn't it?). When the people of God gather in their places of worship, to hear the Word of God preached, to hear the promises of the Gospel proclaimed, to wash sinners in the water of baptism, to feed the Children of God with the Body and Blood of Holy Communion through the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins—this is the work of saving the world. It’s the thankful people in the church spreading the love and grace of Jesus to a world that needs hope and meaning—the church reflects the light of Christ to a dark world!
It's Not Something You Can Do On Your Own.
Followers of Jesus are part of a family, they are part of a body, they are not just individuals wandering around by themselves "just me and Jesus." Followers of Jesus are the church, and the church is a gathering of individual Christians. The promises of God are "for you," but you're not to take His gifts and go hide in a corner. You're not to forsake the gathering of the saints—it's for you, but not only for you.
When the church gathers to sing, and pray, and hear the promises of the Word of God—the story of salvation—it is never exclusively for the already initiated. When the church gathers, it gathers to be a blessing to the world. All the promises of God are offered through the church to the lost and dying world that surrounds it. The church invites everyone to the party—rich or poor, saint or sinner, all who are hungry or thirsty. The church isn’t for “good people,” but it is a place for people to find out about a good God.
You have to be there to do your part. Empty churches that are aching with the absence of their members will not be the source of hope our communities are longing for. If you are a Christian, you need to be in your local church every week—your brothers and sisters need you, you need them, because the world needs Jesus.
The church is a sprinkler system in the desert. The church is a full moon in a dark sky. The church is an embassy of the kingdom of heaven on earth. The church is you.