The Church comes in for a bit of bad press these days and many ask, “Why even bother with church?” There are many followers of Jesus who have given up on the church. Many have been hurt and tell painful stories of bad experiences with our institutionalized forms of Christianity.
I’ve heard it suggested, and I have no reason to doubt it, that across Hobart the largest grouping of people calling themselves Christians don’t belong to any church. And by church I don’t just mean our more traditional congregations but also home churches, pub churches, small groups, and so called ‘para’ church organisations. There are many people, Christians included, who just don’t bother with church anymore. They must have once, how else would they know Jesus?
It is not easy to have a positive view of the Church in our community today. There is a strong secular voice emerging across Australia that paints Christians as freaks, fanatics, and frauds. It paints the church as the problem rather than an answer, and calls not for freedom of religion but freedom from religion. The impression one is left with is that the church is somewhat under siege, so why bother with it at all?
Last week (Sunday January 15) I began a sermon series on the Church and suggested a number of reasons why we should bother, and we’ll explore them in subsequent weeks . . . but here are two of them:
The Church is God’s idea: Matthew 16:18 records Jesus saying, “I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Jesus makes it clear that the Church is his not ours. The Church is not a human idea or construct but comes from the heart of God. Sure we have put our human touches to it, and at times made a complete mess of it, but at its core the Church belongs to God not us. (Here the word ‘church’ can get a little confusing because we use it in so many different ways. Church can mean worship services, buildings, denominations, the body of Christ, and so on. When Jesus uses the word ‘Churc’h here he is talking about the people that make up his Church in its many and various forms and places.)
Jesus also makes it clear that the job of building the Church is not ours but his. That is not to say we are passive, we have work to do, yet it is sobering to remind ourselves that Jesus is the owner and builder of the Church. If we believe things are going badly then our first recourse is to direct the problem to him, not try and fix it all up by ourselves.
Secondly, the Church is precious: In his letter to the church in Ephesus, in a section about marriage Paul makes the point that “Christ loves the Church and gave himself for it” (5:25). Elsewhere he says, “You have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20).
The Church is so precious that the eternal son of God was willing to become a human being and suffer the agonies of the cross and death for the sake of the Church. In other words, in giving up his heavenly riches, Christ made it possible for the Church to share in those riches. That makes the Church the most precious thing on earth. This may be a bit hard for us to fathom, especially those of us who have been hurt in our churches, and it challenges our attitudes towards the church. Doesn’t it?
What these two points highlight for us is that being part of God’s Church is not really an option. In fact, being part of God’s Church is part of God’s acceptance of me. Our forms of church may vary from time to time and from place to place, but even so, when I was rescued by Jesus I was saved into the Church and its local expression.
The idea that I was saved to be a solitary Christian was never in God’s mind. In fact, a person who follows Jesus but is not part of church is like a baby born in an orphanage. They are certainly a human being and a part of the human race, but it was never God’s intention that any child should live outside of family.
Jesus died for the Church and despite its faults and failings loves it immensely. There are many reasons why we should bother with church, I’ve named just two, but ultimately it is because Jesus loves the Church. Do you?
Stephen L Baxter