We all have different thoughts, images, and impressions surrounding the Church. For some those are precious memories of a family supporting us in our difficulties and rejoicing in our victories. For others, and probably far too many, Church evokes a sense of dread, betrayal, and pain.
Let’s face it, we have some really high highlights–disaster relief, establishing centers for healthcare and education, works of mercy wherever the Church has ventured. We also have really low lowlights–the Crusades, persecution of Jews in Europe, the Inquisition, persecution of other Christians with whom we disagree, sanctioning the oppression of many indigenous peoples through colonialism, and more.
We have to recognize our mixed heritage so that we can live today with humility in seeking to answer the questions, “What is the church supposed to look like? What is our purpose? What does it look like when we get it right?”
Our regional Faith and Practice says this about the Church.
Those who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior are born again into His kingdom by His Spirit. These persons make up the true Church of Jesus Christ which is spiritual in nature and universal in scope. By His Spirit, Christ is present whenever two or three meet together in His name. Such a meeting is a local church which is a visible manifestation of the Church universal. Every believer should be related to a local visible part of Christ’s universal Body in order to worship, witness, and work more effectively for the glory of God. Every believer is committed to be involved in the stewardship of God’s Kingdom through the Church until the Lord returns.
In Friends tradition, the Church is made up of every believer.
That means our Methodist friends, Baptist friends, Presbyterian friends, Catholic friends, Orthodox friends, our Pentecostal and Charismatic friends, too. All believers, regardless of which denomination, whatever name they go by or group they worship with, all are part of Christ’s Church. That means we all have a shared burden over our past failures, and we all have a shared victory in the ways the Church is bringing light into dark places and healing where there is hurt.
The apostle Paul has a lot to say about the Church, what it should look like, and how it should work together. He wrote consistently about the church being a unit made up of different parts with different gifts and functions. You can read all about it in I Corinthians chapter 12 & and the foundation of that cooperation in chapter 13. I want to narrow the focus, though, to the purpose of the Church. Paul talks mentions it in part of a prayer in Ephesians 3.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:17-21
Our number one purpose as the Church is to glorify God.
Glorify is a word we use a lot and study very little. Its definitions include the act of worship, as well as “to light up brilliantly” and “reveal or make clearer the glory of God by one’s actions.” Glorifying God means living and acting in such a way that we shine a spotlight on God’s goodness, mercy, righteousness, and love.
Paul calls us God’s ambassadors. Ambassadors do everything in their power to represent their nation and its leaders well. They aim to showcase the values of their culture and bring about better understanding between the people they represent and those with whom they live.
We glorify God through worship that looks like service.
Worship is more than a time set aside each week where we get together, sing, preach and testify to God’s goodness. This is great, but we can lose sight of the obvious, the people we meet with are our fellow ambassadors. The ambassador’s main function is outside their cultural bubble.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people. Galatians 6:10a
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:5-6
Yes, we need to serve and minister to the needs of those are within the Church, but we absolutely must serve and love those who are not.
Love God, Love Others
Jesus famously gave a brilliant answer to those asking which part of the Torah was his guiding principle. He said the entire Law and Prophets hang on two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. If this is Jesus’ central command, it ought to be the guiding principle for all believers in their everyday life, but even more so the bedrock foundation of the actions of the Church.
Glorify God, Serve the World
Living on that foundation of love allows us to bear witness with our lives to the Good News. What is Good News? That God created us, loves us, reaches out to us, wants to restore our lives, relationships, and all of creation. Our job is to live so in step with the Spirit that we can give an answer to why we follow Jesus, what walking in faith has produced in our lives, and do so in a gentle and gracious manner.