For a lot of people, “church” evokes unpleasant experiences. We have all seen many examples of churches and their leaders not acting like they should. Maybe you grew up in a church and found it to be boring and/or irrelevant to the things you were going through in life. Perhaps you visited a church service that featured some great performances but you walked away feeling just as empty as you did before.
In a lot of places, “church” focuses on a building, the Sunday services, and maybe a Bible study or two, and that is about it. It’s like a social club: people come together, wearing nice clothes, acting like they have everything together, no matter how broken things really are on the inside. They sit for the standard rituals, exchange platitudes, and then continue on with life as normal. It all seems so fake and contrived! Little wonder, then, that so many people are no longer identifying themselves as part of a church. People still like Jesus; far fewer like the church!
Why would anyone want to be a part of such a group? Is such a group what Jesus had in mind as the church that He said He would build (Matthew 16:18)? What is the point?
It is sad that the condition of many churches has come to this, for it was never God’s intention for churches to act like social clubs. Instead, God intended for the church to be one of the greatest blessings in our lives!
In the New Testament, the “church” never refers to a building or a denominational organization. The “church” always involves the people who believe in Jesus and seek to serve Him (cf. Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 4:11-16, 5:22-33). While all obedient believers are considered the one church (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, Revelation 21), the believers in a local area would meet together and represent the church in that area (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1). Whenever possible, those local churches would be guided by qualified men who served as elders (Philippians 1:1, 1 Peter 5:1-4), yet in all things, Jesus was considered the real authority in the churches (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 5:22-33). In the New Testament, there was the “universal” church, and local congregations of God’s people; there were no organizational structures in between!
God declares in Scripture what the church is supposed to be all about through three images: the church as a Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2:4-5), the church as a body (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28), and the church as a family (1 Timothy 3:15).
The image of the church as a Temple shows us that God is interested in people becoming more holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). The Temple is the location where the presence of God dwells; it is not in a building anymore, but within and among Christians. Christians, individually and together, are to reflect God’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, both in doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, based in what God has revealed to us through Christ and His Apostles (cf. Galatians 5:17-24, Ephesians 2:20-22).
The image of the church as a body shows us how God expects the church to function. As a human body has many different parts that work independently and together, so the church is made up of people who work independently and together. As a human body is governed by the dictates of the mind, so the church is governed by what Christ its Head has said. As a body is made up of different parts, some public, some private, having different functions, yet all important and necessary for proper functioning, so the church is made up of different people who serve the Lord, some in more public ways, others in more private ways, and they all are important and valuable in God’s sight. And just as body parts compensate for one another in times of weakness, so Christians are to strengthen each other in moments of weakness (cf. Galatians 6:1-2).
The image of the church as a family underscores the strong relationship that should exist among God’s people. God is understood to be our Father (cf. Romans 8:15), and Jesus as our older Brother (Hebrews 2:11, 17). We are to appreciate and value our fellow Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 1 John 3:14). As people are supposed to find warmth, acceptance, and love within a properly functioning family, so the church should be the place where all who seek to serve the Lord find warmth, acceptance, and love (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 John 1:7).
All of these images point to what God expects the church to be, powerfully displayed in Ephesians 4:11-16: a group of people who share in relationships with God and one another, loving and strengthening one another according to the message of God in Christ, learning how to serve God and all men through Christ, and all so that the church can grow in the glory of God. A lot of that work is done when Christians come together on Sundays to strengthen one another through praying together, singing together, giving together, taking the Lord’s Supper together, and learning more about God’s message together through preaching and teaching (cf. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:23-26, 14:16-17, 26, 16:1-4). Yet just as Christianity is much more than what is done on Sunday morning, so also the church is more than just its assemblies: we show hospitality to one another, finding ways to get to know one another so that we can bear one another’s burdens, give to each other as needed, and strive to be a constant source of strength in each other’s lives (Romans 12:10-13, Galatians 6:2, 1 Peter 4:9).
We at the Venice church of Christ believe that the church as God wants it to function has an important part to play in the role in the lives of every believer. We are not perfect people and we do not claim to have everything figured out, yet we still seek to reflect God’s intentions for His church, to be the Temple, body, and family that honors God by strengthening one another. We welcome you to learn more about our family and hope that you will consider joining us so that we can strengthen you and build you up in your faith! If you would like to talk more about the church and how to become a part of it, please contact us. Thanks for reading this material, and we hope to hear from you soon!
Ethan R. Longhenry