We Believe: The Church is the Body of Christ
This is a preview of a sermon in the “We Believe: Back to Basics” series. To watch the recording of any of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.
“It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”
—2 John 4-6
“We believe that a visible church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by his laws; and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his word.” — Article XII. Of the Harmony of the Law and the Gospel New Hampshire Confession of Faith 1833 (NHCF), 1833
“… to deliver them from [love of sin], and to restore them [believers] through a Mediator to unfeigned obedience to the holy law, is one great end of the gospel, and of the means of grace connected with the establishment of the visible church.” — Article XIII. Of A Gospel Church
The Church, and what we might call “organized religion” in general, is incredibly unpopular and increasingly distrusted.
Abuse and money scandals have rocked churches and denominations across the theological spectrum
Even if many can see a role for spirituality, or even have positive feelings about Jesus, there are many doubters of the church. “No hurt like church hurt,” the saying goes. And even when it’s not the direct result of abuse, it seems that 21st-century life works against involvement in organized religion. While “Why Church” may not be the best question theologically, it’s certainly on many people’s minds. And those who see value in organized religion, may simply view it as having merely a social function – like a medicine for the hurt of an increasingly lonely world.
For those in church, these headlines might result in panic. For those outside, befuddlement. What does it mean to “believe in” church? In what world could it matter? Isn’t religion private, and best kept between an individual and God?
First, it helps to ask the right questions. For the Christian, it really does matter that the question is not “Why Church?” as when we are Baptized with Christ we gain not only a Heavenly Father but many sisters and brothers in the Spirit.
Instead, a superior question is, “What is Church?” What is this thing I’ve been called to?
As one Christian thinker, Stanley Hauerwas, put it, it’s actually the first task of the church to (simply) be the church, and to make the 'world' the world. There is actually a danger in trying to defend the church and make it recognizable to the world.
“When the church becomes preoccupied with defending itself to the world, it eventually becomes incoherent. The only way to be a church is to speak the peculiar language of peace, of forgiveness, of repentance and resurrection. When we do not do our job, the church becomes understandable to the world but loses its mission. It is no longer peculiar, even if it is now coherent to a culture that is anything but Christian. We need that friction, that impossible question of how church works, that puzzlement over what the church does, because what it does is often inconceivable to those outside it.”
The church remembering our story is essential if we hope to offer the gift of good news to the world. If we lose it, we’ll be lost in the same smoke that blinds the world to its purpose. Church is, by design, a bit different.
I remember when I was young, older church members warned me about the “church business meeting.” They discouraged me from attending when I was 16 or 17. They feared I would get disillusioned. And, while I understand their concern, I am afraid that the same thing that makes church fellowship so beautiful is also what makes it vulnerable. That isn’t to say we allow abuse to continue. It must be cast out. But it does mean that when we are in relationship with one another, difficulty will come alongside with joy.
We’re reading a whole book of the Bible. It’s around 250 words – shorter than this blog posts – so don’t worry. It’s 2 John. The letter is written to encourage a church, and to warn a church about those who seek to disrupt the church with false teaching about Christ. The cornerstone of this little letter is the command you can read at the top of this post, the enduring command to “love one another” and to “walk in obedience to his [Jesus’s] commands” (2 John 4-6, NIV). We’re saved not only from something, but to a new life – a life lived together.
The church is the community of God which walks in the Spirit. It is the location of our discipleship. Here, as we gather for worship, and as we scatter to continue our daily lives, we learn what it means to live life as Christians: little Christs. As Eugene Peterson put it, the church is a Colony of Heaven in the Country of Death. Or, as Scripture says, we are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).
What is your experience of church? Have you experienced “church hurt?” Why do you think the church’s failures to live up to our calling cause so much pain?
Have you ever thought of other people as essential parts of your faith? How have experiences with other believers built you up in faith?
The Church is a Covenant Community. A covenant is a promise. Our church has a church covenant and pledge to new members. What do the commitments make to one another say about what the church is?
4. How can we pray for all Christians, as the church, to be a more faithful witness to the body of Christ?