With tomorrow being Sunday, I thought it might be good to say something about “church.” The church has fallen on hard times in this part of the world at the beginning of the 21st century. There are no shortage of critics and prophets of doom when it comes to the present state and future of the church. This is not to say that there are not very real problems; there are. Attendance is down. For many “church” is irrelevant. Then there at those who willing to bet their lives that they can be okay with God and yet have nothing to do with the church in any organized sense. My own experience is that many sincere people even believe that the church is actually a hindrance to true spirituality and that they are better off without it.
However, before we write the church off as a hangover from a bygone era there are a few things we need to keep in mind. In terms of the Bible, the church is not passé. It is not merely a social, human institution that has outlived its usefulness. Nor should it give way to the myriad of para-church organizations that have arisen that in many cases think they can do what church cannot do or what it has failed to do.
According to the Bible, the church is directly tied to God in a special way. It is to express his character as holy and gracious, it is central to the accomplishment of his purposes in the world, and when it is functioning as it should, it bears witness to the Trinitarian nature of God as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The church is the ultimate expression of God’s desire to have a people of his very own. It is a community of people who have been called out of their natural moral and spiritual darkness into the wonderful light of the kingdom of God’s Son. They have been born again and joyfully acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. They are a redeemed community who are indwelt, guided and energized by the Holy Spirit.
Contrary to some popular teaching, the church did not just appear “out of the blue.” It is the fulfillment of ancient promises made to Abraham and others. The church has its roots in the Old Testament people of God and yet it is not identical with that Old Covenant community. The church is the New Covenant expression of the remnant chosen according to the election of grace that has come into its own on this side of the cross, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This is why New Testament authors boldly and consistently apply terms that once applied to the nation of Israel, to the church of Jesus Christ, as the new Israel of the God.
The apostle Peter brings these strands of thought together when he writes: “As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10).
If I take Peter seriously, it doesn’t sound as though the church is an after-thought or that it has outlived it’s usefulness! While the church is frequently in need of reformation and revival, it is not something we can afford to be indifferent about. It is my prayer that God will visit his church again in wonderful cleansing and renewing power. What we need more than anything else is a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and an accompanying sense of the glory and wonder of being in Christ and consequently of being part of the bride he is preparing for himself; the bride that one day will be without any imperfections at all.