Are we the church God calls us to be?
As Pentecost approaches Norwich URC Minister Matt Stone provides an encouraging and challenging reminder of what God has made and called the church to be.
“You wouldn’t run a business like this,” is a phrase I’ve heard numerous times since becoming a minister. It’s a phrase I struggle with, because the church is not, should not, and simply cannot be a business. If the church were run like a business, something would have gone seriously awry.
We are not here to make money; we are here to make disciples. Church members are not customers or staff, but co-workers in the Kingdom of God. Ministers are not here to act like Managing Directors, able to hire and fire at will to drive through our own vision, we are here to teach and inspire the whole church to become who God has made us, and called us, to be.
The Bible gives us several descriptions of what the church is, or should be. Notably, all of them are about us being together – we cannot be ‘lone ranger Christians.’
First, we are the chosen people of God. Peter writes:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, 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 2:9-10)
We become members of the church not by birth, but re-birth – by being ‘born again’ (see John 3) – and entering into a relationship with God, through which we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit.
Secondly, we are the family of God. Paul refers to the ‘family of believers’ in Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:10; and in 1 Peter 2:17 and 5:9. Jesus is said to be the ‘firstborn’ among many ‘brothers and sisters’ (Romans 8:29). We are all in this together.
Perhaps, like me, you sometimes struggle with the ‘democracy’ of some of our denominations, especially when you believe a church meeting or a General Synod has made the wrong decision and/or failed to make a necessary, but difficult decision. However, families have to operate in an open way. We have to listen to all the views. For better or worse, we seek God’s will together. We are a family together under the headship of Jesus, not a hierarchy – whatever the formal structures might look like.
Thirdly, we are the body of Christ. Paul writes:
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
Lesslie Newbigin, a former URC Moderator and missionary, once wrote, “Jesus Christ never wrote a book; what he did was leave behind a community: the church.” As the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today.
We can bemoan how the church is not doing this or that, or serving a particular group of people, but the question has to become: Why am I not doing this, or helping with that, or seeking to set up a new activity or outreach? We cannot pass the buck, or hand over responsibility, or claim that it’s not our job. We cannot be spectators or grumbling customers, we have to be participants in the community of God.
Fourthly, we are a holy temple. Paul writes:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
The miracle of Pentecost is that God lives in you and me. The presence, power and love of God dwells in us – or should dwell in us, if we allow him to – richly. This is amazing news that we would do well to reflect on.
The church is not a business; we are God’s family, filled with God’s presence, here to serve and glorify God in the world. May God give us the grace to become who we are created and called to be!
Rev Matt Stone is a Minister in the Norwich Area Group of United Reformed Churches and Editor of In GEAR magazine.
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