A Case of Mistaken Identity –7

This is the seventh article in a series addressing the pattern of many Christians who no longer view the church as relevant or necessary and are leaving the church. Let’s look at four powerful characteristics of Christ’s church.

First, we need the context of community (i.e., the church) to grow in Christlikeness. We are misinformed, if not arrogant, if we think we can grow in Christ apart from the constant and consistent interaction of other followers of Christ. God’s design for us as Christians is to become more like Christ—that is, to take on Christ’s character. Character issues are predominantly relational. In other words, love, forbearance, patience, grace, mercy, forgiving—all of these character qualities can only be learned and practiced in the context of relationships. 

We don’t learn to be more loving by reading a book or even studying the Bible. We become more loving as we observe others love and imitate love in the context of our own relationships. Jesus demonstrated this principle in John 13:14-15 when he washed his disciple’s feet and then told them to follow his example.

Paul speaks to the highly social and collective nature of our spiritual growth in Ephesians 4:14-16. There he clearly shows how God desires us to grow up as a church—not merely as individuals. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head [of the church], that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

The Ephesians passage leads us into the second powerful characteristic of the church—namely, that spiritual gifts are given to the body of Christ-followers and not to individuals. Yes, the Holy Spirit has distributed spiritual gifts to individual members of Christ’s body, but specifically for the growing up of the body and for the common good of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7, 18, 28; 14:4-5, 26).

Again, we tend to be so self-focused when it comes to spiritual gifts as though our own personal fulfillment were the issue at stake. But that’s not the case at all. The gifts are given by God to grow his church collectively, to serve the body and to bring others to Christ. When we find fulfillment in exercising our spiritual gifts, that’s icing on the cake; that’s a result, not the goal.

Third, we recognize that the church can collectively accomplish what one individual could never do. The church I’m a part of shares tens of thousands of dollars every month with the needy, numerous world-wide mission efforts in evangelism and church-planting, and meeting needs of our church family. This expansive ministry is not merely a matter of scale, but also of camaraderie and joy.

People love to and need to be part of something bigger than themselves. Very few of us can foot the bill to drill a well and provide fresh water for a Ugandan village. But as a church team we can do it! And what joy there is in watching God use us as a team and all the esprit d’ corps that such efforts bring. People are served, Christ is glorified, and we grow in him as a church family! (See Acts 6:1-7; 13:1-3.)

Fourth, the church is Christ’s strongest testimony to the lost. How can I say that? Jesus told his disciples in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And again, in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, he prayed for the love and unity among his followers. “That they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

I’m convinced that any Christian who has pulled away from the church has forgotten these fundamental characteristics of the church and who we are in Christ as his church body. Again, abandonment of the church must be a case of mistaken identity.

©2010 Rob Fischer