Thursday, February 13, 2014

In Search of the Church

What is the Christian church, and where do we go to find it? This is important because Christians are told they are part of this church, so they need to find out what it is and how to participate in it (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:11-16). But where do we find it?

One view says it is known by historical continuity, by being able to trace the organization back to the apostles. But there is no basis at all in Scripture for this. Those passages that speak of a principle of authority present in the church base it on a confession of faith in Christ or on being His disciples (Matthew 16:12-19; 18:15-20; 28:16-20). Nor is this obvious from just looking at the history.

But perhaps the correct church is the one that has all the correct teaching. However, Scripture discourages us from the idea that we know all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:2,3; 2:1-5). This is not surprising, as we are sinners and are still in the process of growing in Christ (1 John 1:8-10; Philippians 3:12-16; 1 Corinthians 13:12). We are told we can know God, though this clearly implies more than intellectual knowledge (Jeremiah 9:23,24; Philippians 3:7-11; John 17:3). Now this does involve knowledge of certain of the basics (Galatians 1:8,9; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:3,4). But it does not mean having all the details right.

Another approach, more common today, is one that looks not at the teachings, but at the practices. The idea is, if we follow the right practices, then we are the church as it should be. But the New Testament gives only broad, general guidelines for practices (1 Corinthians 14:40; Hebrews 10:24,25; Acts 2:42-47). Now we are given very definite commandments as to how Christians should behave (1 John 4:7,8; Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 3:12-14). These should be taken seriously, but only the Lord Jesus perfectly embodied them. If we look for a church where these are perfectly or even nearly perfectly reflected, it will be a long search.

I would like to suggest a different approach. Those who are members of the church are those who have faith in Christ (Ephesians 3:10-12; Colossians 1:18-23; Acts 2:47). Therefore, those who are believers in Christ are the church and should act like the church. But the issue is not finding the right congregation or organization, but acting in a way that reflects who we are. We need to trust that God is at work in our life to change us as we trust in Him (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:28,29; 2:19). And we can go out in confidence, not asking, "How can I fit in?" but "How can I build others up?" Nor will I deterred by the fact of what label they have, but I can be in communion those who have faith, in whatever context I meet them. For it is not finding the right people, but being the right people.

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