Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Building Our Own Church

There has always been the danger of identifying the Christian church with the church organization. Membership in one has been equated with membership in the other. Now virtually no one has carried this idea to the extent of total identification. There is always some idea that a person, though technically a member of the organization, could be not a member of the true church. But we can fall into the idea that being part of the organization means we are Christians, or growing Christians, if we do not obviously blow it. There is no basis for this in Scripture. It was the error of the Jews, who thought that because they were part of the nation, they were in good standing with God (Romans 9:6-13; 2:25-29; John 8:37-47). Further, Scripture universally rejects the claim that our outward show of religiosity commends us to God (Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 23:1-12). Now entwined with this is the question of whether participation in the sacraments is necessary for salvation. I am convinced that it is not (Romans 4:9-12; Luke 23:39-43; John 3:18). But in response to those who think it is, I point out, "I have been baptized. I take the Lord's Supper. Do I qualify?" And often I am told I have not received it from the right people or in the right way or believing in the right theory. That is, I have not received it from the right organization. Which has no basis in Scripture at all.

But we can react to this by making salvation highly individualistic. Salvation and growth in Christ are seen as something purely between me and God. And the church organization is merely a resource to help me in this. Again, no one usually takes this to the full extreme. But we can start to see the church as simply a club we join, which we can organize any way we want to. And we can exclude anyone who does not meet our standards or fit into our program. We can also require those who are in the group to conform to our ideal if they want to stay in.

Often, as Evangelical Christians we waffle between these extremes trying to find the right balance. May I suggest an alternative? We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:7-9; Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5). As a result we are incorporated into His body (1 Corinthians 10:16,17; 12:12-27; Ephesians 2:11-22). This body is what Christ works through to accomplish His purposes on earth (Ephesians 4:15,16; Colossians 2:19; Romans 12:3-8) as He works through the lives of the various members (Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:28,29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). This body is to be organized (Hebrews 13:17; Ephesians 4:11,12; 1 Corinthians 14:40). But this is the expression of the body and should not be confused with the body. The church is not an organization or a club but the mystical assembly of all true believers through all time, and it transcends whatever organization we are in .

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