A mother once asked her child if he knew what a church was. With a big smile on his face, he said, "Yes mommy. That's where God lives."
Of course, the child's perception that God lives in a single, physical place is incorrect. Nevertheless his statement is profound: God does live in His church - the company of all who believe in Jesus Christ and have received Him as their Savior and Lord.
In a broad biblical sense, the church is the body of Christ - the collection of Christian believers from all over the world and from all times who are bound together by the shed blood of Christ and His resurrected presence.
In our local congregations, we play an important part of the body of Christ. God wants us to work together so that the church body can minister to others more effectively.
The church also is a unity of the Holy Spirit. Although doctrinal differences often separate Christian groups, they are united in the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross, and He rose from the dead that through Him we can be reconciled to God.
The outreach of the church is worldwide. When our Lord's earthly ministry was completed, He commanded the church to carry His good news to the world. By sharing our faith in Christ, we are helping to fulfill His Great Commission.
I am convinced that a proper understanding of the church and how it is to function as a local body is important if we are to be fruitful disciples for Christ.
Some time ago I struck up a conversation with the passenger sitting next to me on a plane flight. As we talked, he was very cordial and pleasant. Than I asked, "Where are you on your spiritual journey?" Suddenly, he became defensive.
"I had my fill of the church when I was a young boy. Can you believe that I was forced to attend services at least three times a week? Every Sunday morning and evening and every Wednesday night. Years ago I determined that when I became an adult I would never attend church again as long as I live."
"How would you like to live in a community where there was no church?" I asked. He dropped his head and was silent for a moment. Then he replied, "I wouldn't like that."
Looking at him firmly in the eye, I said forcefully, "You are a parasite!" Immediately he became flustered and said impatiently, "What do you mean by that?"
"Simple. You want all the benefits of the church without any of the responsibility." He slowly smiled, returned my direct gaze, then announced, "For the first time in 20 years, I'll be in church on Sunday."
Before I became a Christian, I used to believe that the church was filled with hypocrites. Now I recognize that many people go to church - not because they are perfect - but because they need help. The church then, in the vernacular of the business world, is a repair shop, not a retail store. The church is not perfect, but it is the institution that offers hope and healing in any community or culture. It is how God reaches out to others with His love and forgiveness.
I urge you to study this lesson prayerfully and carefully. As you continue in your study of the Bible, search out passages that describe the church and its ministry on earth. Keep a diary of your studies for future reference.
Where does your church stand on these truths? It may be helpful to obtain a doctrinal statement from your church and research these areas.
Which of these roles do you fill? Which would you like to be involved in? Why? How are your preparing yourself for that ministry?
Adapted from The 10 Basic Steps Toward Christian Maturity, by Bill Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. © Cru. All rights reserved.
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