Years ago, I heard a brother in Christ — we will call him “Bill” — share his testimony in a Wednesday evening church service. In his high school and college years, he adopted the label of atheist and denied the Bible had anything worthwhile to say. Upon graduation from college, a friend invited Bill to attend his church, and he respectfully declined. However, this friend was not taking no for an answer, and continued to pursue Bill with invitations.
Finally, Bill conceded and came to church on a Sunday morning. He sat skeptically through the sermon, internally mocked the songs, and noted that, of course, the church was asking for people’s money. Bill decided to come back the next week, however, and in subsequent weeks as well. Why did he, a devout atheist, decide to keep coming back?
Over time, as he described it in his testimony, it was not the songs or preaching but mainly his observations of the ways in which the people of that particular church loved and cared for one another. Bill was seeing an embodiment of the truth Jesus proclaimed: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
The church as a unique world within the world
The church, when firing on all cylinders by God’s grace, can be a powerful apologetic for the truthfulness of the Chrisitan faith. The Bible calls the church to act in certain ways toward the believers inside the church and toward unbelievers in the outside world. Certainly the world will not always love the gospel of Jesus Christ or the convictions Christians hold to, but if the church were to understand these things aright and apply these truths, more people like Bill could be reached.
Sometimes the Bible speaks about the church in a universal way, referring to all Christians throughout the world and throughout history. But it is most often the case that the Bible talks about the church in a local sense, referring to a specific community of believers. These local churches are often described through metaphors in the New Testament, three in particular: the people of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Spirit.
The people of God are those who are are called out by God (1 Cor. 1:24) and set apart by Him. The Bible calls such people “saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). This doesn’t mean they are better than others, simply that they have responded to God’s offer of salvation and desire to follow His will. In living out of love for and holiness toward one another, as God calls us to, the church aims to fulfill the “one another” commands, as expressed in the New Testament.
This means that as fellow church members we serve, encourage, rebuke, rejoice with, give, and pray for one another, among other things. As a covenant community, we relate to one another as family caring for the needs that arise (1 Tim. 5:1-2). We serve one another in love and holiness, meaning we care for practical needs, and we also rebuke and exhort one another away from sin and toward godliness. In this way, Christian community is vital in the lives of Christians (Heb. 3:12-13; 10:25-27) and will also serve as a unique world to outsiders.
The church as a source of good in the world
The apostle Paul calls us to a certain posture within the world: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). We are primarily concerned with caring for those within the church, but not exclusively. We need to be aware of the needs that arise in our own communities, our country, and areas of the world that are desperate for help.
We must do this within our means (no church can solve every dilemma), but we must be strategic and direct in doing this. In my church, a local benevolence ministry has been of great help to our community and shows people that our church aims to embody a generous spirit for the sake of others. And we would only do this because of the gospel.
If we know the nature of the church, we then can better see how it should function. And if we function in the way God is calling us to, this will serve as a powerful apologetic to a watching world. They may disagree with our convictions and stances on any number of issues, but we continue to maintain those biblical convictions, speak the truth of the gospel in love, live in love toward those within and outside the church in tangible ways, and pray.
This is a recipe for God to work in profound ways in our midst.
Published April 6, 2018