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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What is a church?

Wouldn't it be nice to have a "handbook" to guide us in just about everything we undertake, especially when it deals with having to be in relationship with any other person or group of people?  When I was in scouting as a girl, one of the things we were told to purchase was our handbook.  Along with a uniform, badge sash, and a pencil, we were to bring our handbook to each and every meeting.  It was this handbook we would refer to in order to learn our pledge, see the steps necessary to complete in order to earn badges to put on our sash, and the like.  In the content of the handbook, there were such things as how we were to function as a group of scouts - looking out for each other, always being kind, etc.  The handbook guided our behavior as a troop of scouts and helped us learn new skills.  Our troop leader would be our other source of learning - because she would actually help us gather the things we needed in order to obtain a new skill and then would help us learn that skill so we could fulfill the requirements for our badges.  I wonder what might just happen in our families, work environments, and communities at large if we began treating the Bible like God's handbook - something provided to help us figure out how to relate as a cohesive group of people and then to accomplish the steps toward growth we might not otherwise be able to accomplish on our own?


I hope I can come to you soon. But I am writing this to you now, so that, even if I cannot come soon, you will know how people should live in the family of God. That family is the church of the living God. And God’s church is the support and foundation of the truth. Without a doubt, the secret of our life of worship is great:  Christ was shown to us in human form; the Spirit proved that he was right; he was seen by angels.  The message about him was told to the nations; people in the world believed in him; he was taken up to heaven in glory.  (I Timothy 3:14-16 ERV)

Paul purposed to visit certain churches - some he made it to in person - others he had to rely upon written communication to share his wisdom, guide their practice, and help them to grow in grace.  He commissioned men and women to assist in bringing each church into a place of active growth and inter-related purpose in Christ.  These "leaders" were to be men and women of good character - those who were willing to make right choices, live under the scrutiny of the Word themselves, and be in the forefront of the spreading of the gospel message of God's good news about Christ.  These leaders were not weak by any means - for their lives were under close and continuous watch - as others would count on them to live as examples to follow.  They were like the troop leaders - they not only helped bring the believers together, but they helped maintain an environment "ripe" with growth.  So, their selection was important.  They had to be people who were actively growing themselves - able to humbly submit in obedience to Christ, and to prove as examples of this active submission to the will of God so others could learn how to "live out" their salvation.

Knowing "how" to live in the family of God is important - mostly because there is no other family made up of so many "blended" parts.  Whenever you get more than one person in a room, you have more than one set of opinions on matters at hand, lots of ideas which can be anywhere from well-meaning to just short of "ill-intentioned", and some pretty hairy opportunities for struggles with what everyone sees as the most urgent of matters.  The "how" of unity and growth is pretty important if we are to grow in any sense of communal relationship - whether it be a family, our neighborhood, or our work environment.  I had my handbook in my scouting community, but we have the Word of God (the Bible) to guide us in ALL forms of community.  Learning to apply the truths contained within is then an important part of how well the community will be functioning when all is said and done.

So, both good leaders and a solid apprehension of the teachings of the scripture are important.  To this end, Paul sets out to establish the "foundation" of all other truth upon which the church is built - that of Christ, his death for our sins, and his resurrection to life now seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.  No other foundation would do - for any other foundation would negate the unity only God's grace can produce.  As Paul pointed out, there are a whole lot of things which remain a mystery to us, but these truths are well-established and we need to count on them to give us the guidance and foundation upon which we build strong community.  So, much like we learned our pledge and promise as scouts, Paul wants us to understand what it is we build our faith upon in terms of our relationship as believers:

1. Christ came as a human.  We have to see the benefit of this "connection" which was established by this simple act on his part.  We needed a way to connect with God which was more than some cloud of smoke or pillar of fire hovering over the ark of the covenant.  We needed a "God with a bod" as my pastor so aptly says.
2. The Spirit proved that he pleased God, and he was seen by angels.  His life was "backed up" by the Holy Spirit's confirmation of his "authenticity" time and time again.  He was not just "a god" among gods, but the God of the universe and this is the foundation upon which we "pledge" our lives.
3. Christ was preached to the nations.  People in this world put their faith in him, and he was taken up to glory.  His gospel is "good news" to those who will hear it and obey.  The Law of Moses was a binding agreement which required many things of the devout Jew.  They put their faith in the sacrificial offerings and all they were to accomplish.  Yet, these things were only the "type" of what was to come in Christ's birth, death, burial, and resurrection.  We have seen the real thing, Paul says - his message of hope was preached to the world - and now it is established as the truth upon which we build our lives.  To this truth and hope we are to "pledge" our allegiance and build our "community".

Knowing that we need both the "plan" (the scriptures) and positive examples of how this "plan" is lived out (leaders in the faith), we are called into community as believers.  "Church" is more than a building or a place we go one day a week. It is a living, thriving organism whereby we draw life, learn lessons which produce growth and give "new skill" in our daily walk, and where others can enter into this union of faith we call Christianity.  Just sayin!