When I say the word “Church” what do you hear? Do you hear “building”? Do you hear “programs,” “offerings,” or “sermons”? When I say “Church” do you hear “hypocrite” or “abuse”? These are all real terms I hear floating around out there and they are all connected to the word “Church.” But none of them should define the Church. While the Church is not perfect, composed of a bunch of imperfect, flawed people, she is still the Body and Bride of Christ.
When I say “Church,” I hear “the gathering of the people of God; the people who’ve been called by Him to bring His Kingdom down in the shape of the Gospel to a lost and dying world.” When I say “Church,” I do not mean “club” and I do not hear “exclusive.” This gathering is unlike any other gathering in the world. It is new, fresh, constantly changing, constantly being renewed, and full of life. The Church is willing.
When I say “Church,” I do not necessarily mean “local.” Yes, the Church is manifested on a local level, but it is also seen in partnership with itself and other Christian institutions all around the world. This looks like two or more different local Bodies working together to accomplish a goal in Missions, Discipleship, or Prayer. This is five or ten different local Bodies coming together to form a school or a training institute. This is 50 or 100 different local Bodies all supporting a ministry we all recognize as healthy and useful. These Bodies together are also called “The Church” in the sense that we all are serving the same Lord, under the leadership of the same Spirit, with the command of the same God, grounded in the teachings of the same Book.
When I say “Church,” I see, hear, touch, and feel the person of Jesus. We can never hastily stick the label “Church” on a group of people that in any way divorce themselves from the person of Jesus. This is a statement we would all readily agree, but in reality should take some time to consider. Here is what I mean. Anytime the Church invests more of its time and energy in its own needs, instead of the needs of the world around it, it ceases to become the Church and just becomes another group of people gathering. Any time the Church becomes more consumed by its own desires, instead of the desires of Christ, it ceases to be the Church. Anytime the Church shifts its focus from the perfect truth of God as displayed for us so beautifully in the Bible, it stops being the Church. The Church is ALL ABOUT JESUS and not about us. Anytime the pendulum swings away from Jesus, we must determinedly swing it back or forfeit our name.
I do not mean to sound harsh here. I mean to sound truthful. I mean with my words to bring about a sense of revival and a need for prayer. I mean to call for renewal and transformation by the Holy Spirit of God. I mean to call our Churches back to their knees in hope and confession and repentance. I mean for us to see nothing short of a shaking of the Church at the hands of Almighty God.
Out of the thousands of verses I could choose to illustrate my thoughts here, I choose this one: “…He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This is the essence of the Church. Before Jesus said these words to His disciples He showed them His side (He gave them visible proof He was real), He offered them His peace (the very presence of God), and He commissioned them for the work ahead (He invited them to join His mission to the world). Jesus offered his very breath as the wind of the Holy Spirit to them (as He is to us) and then He said this: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [This is all found in John chapter 20.]
Jesus is not telling the early Church that they are God; that they have the final authority to forgive sins. He is telling them they are dispensers of grace; they are the caretakers of the treasure; they are the keeper of the keys to the Kingdom. He sets them on a simple mission to bring His Kingdom to its fulfillment. If the Church is not doing that, it is not a Church. Any other mission takes the Church in another direction than Jesus. We don’t want to go there.
As you pray for your Church this week, pray for the fresh wind of the Spirit; the very breath of God to stir among its members. Pray for a renewal of vision and hope. Pray each member of the Body you are a part of will catch the wind of the Spirit in the sail of their soul and go with Him wherever He leads. I pray this for you and your Church. Because in reality, it’s not really yours. It’s His.