A friend called to say he'd been reading my blog regularly. That was cool. Of course, since I've been posting irregularly that means he's been doing a hit-and-miss checkup. Still, he's READING it! Now all I have to do is think of things worth saying.
About a year ago I set my browser homepage for ChristianityToday. If you're interested in a good blog, one that will get you thinking about current issues in the church, then check out their Leadership Journal blog "Out of Ur." If I've done my job correctly, you should be able to link to it from here. It's a good one to subscribe to.
One thing I've seen is that we all seem to have different definitions of what the church is. We start with the Bible's definitions or metaphors, such as: "The church is the Body (or Bride) of Christ," or: "The church is the people who worship God," or: "The church is the saints of God who believe in Jesus." But when we get to specifics, we go all over the map. We use Bible definitions in human ways, in the ways we've been taught by our elders (sometimes spiritual elders, sometimes family elders). God's terms become our own code language.
This matters because how we define the church is how we define what we are supposed to be and who joins us in being that. If church is rules, then we are supposed to follow rules and hang with people who follow the same rules. If church is doctrine, then we are supposed to believe certain doctrines and hang with people who also believe those doctrines. If church is conservative or liberal politics, or culture or ethnic background, then we are supposed to be conservative or liberal or intellectual or artsy or whatever, and must hang with people who are also whatever. And the un-asked question is: "Is this really the church?"
The New Testament church came to a point where it had to decide whether it would accept its own preconceptions about what it was, or God's definition of what it was. God's definition was surprisingly broader than theirs. As it turned out, God's definition didn't include such things as kosher foods or circumcision. God's definition was much more simple. It was the people who believed on Jesus as His Son and believed that He had raised this dead Son to life. Nothing more was needed to define the church. Not activities, not race, not culture or heritage or politics. Just "Confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead."
What would happen if we began to redefine ourselves Biblically? Would we stop giving the attention we do to denominational affiliations? Would form of worship matter more or less to us? Would it matter to us when others think the Rapture would take place? Would we care that they are Calvinists while we are Arminians, or vice versa? Would we mind if they read the New Living Translation rather than the King James Version?
The thing is, we think that when we make these things part of the definition of the church we really are defining ourselves Biblically. We think we are purifying by splitting hairs. And in hair-splitting, we are Christ-splitting. But if we return to the New Testament definition of the church, then we exalt and lift up Jesus Christ. We show the unity that shows the world He really is the Son of God. If we confess Him as Lord, then we also will inevitably grow in holiness, because you can't call Jesus Lord and at the same time excuse what your Lord calls sin. If we believe that God has raised Jesus up from the dead, then we can believe that this same God has now, in this world, sowed the seed of immortality and new spiritual life in us--and death can't stop that life anymore than it could keep its hold on Jesus.
I have to accept that anyone who confesses Jesus as Lord, and who believes God has raised Jesus from the dead, is a part of the church. I have to treat that person as a brother or sister, and to seek to stay in the unity that the Holy Spirit brings. Unity comes from a common sharing in the life of Jesus and a common indwelling of the Spirit. That person is as much a partaker of the covenant of God as I am. That person has what I have. I can serve, encourage, teach and learn; but I cannot define that person out of the Body of Christ. This isn't an excuse for tolerating sin; there is a clearly-stated time for Biblical discipline. All too often, though, I see Christians treat one another as if "sin" means "not doing it my way."
It was said of the early Christians, "Behold how they love one another." What if people could say the same about us--that we all love one another no matter what church we went to or what translation we read? What if we try to live up to God's definition of who we are and not our own? Wouldn't that make us a church worth joining?