February 2, 2012

The church is not a building or a business

The true church is first an organism, not an organization or a building. It is made up of those who believe in Jesus Christ and are reborn, translated from the kingdom of darkness and sin to become members of the Body of Christ. It is a mysterious organism where diversity can be unified, not under a creed but by the person of Christ Jesus. He gives each member the Holy Spirit and citizenship in what is called His Body, His household, His holy dwelling place.
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18–22)
Yet the church gets a bad rap. Not the organism, but the organization. As soon as the Body of Christ operates like a business or anything else other than what it is, that organic, life-filled distinction begins to blur and it does not function as God intended. 

For instance, North American business says “bigger is better,” but if the main concern of a local body of believers becomes its size, then godly joint citizenship and the reality of being a holy temple become secondary to the addition of more people. I’ve been in churches where adding members became more important than the biblical criteria for membership. It didn’t matter if a person truly believed. It didn’t matter that they had no saving relationship with God. Instead, all that mattered was that they showed up on Sunday. This desire for growth can also result in some odd marketing, like the church that offered free ice cream to everyone attending Sunday School. While a healthy local church should experience growth, its spiritual life is marred by putting growth over godliness.

Another organizational concern can be money. In some churches, the budget rules church policy. That is, every step taken, every program started, every leader hired (or fired) depends entirely on the amount put in the offering plate. Instead of planning ministry based on faith in God and the leading of the Holy Spirit (organic life), all that is done or not done depends on the budget. 

While this approach sounds like a solid business plan, it leaves out a key component of what God intends for the church — living by faith. It forgets that if God wants something done, He also supplies the resources to do it, even when we cannot see them at first. When God told Abraham, a man of faith, to take his son to a place of sacrifice, the lad asked, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Abraham trusted God, even when it looked like obedience meant disaster. Where is the faith of a church that insists on having all the resources first before stepping out in obedience?

In the above verses, the last line stands out. It says that in Christ, the members of His Body are “built into a dwelling place for God by His Spirit.” When the people in a church remember who we are, that we are both individually and corporately the dwelling place of God, then it becomes impossible to treat our union as a mere organization — with a business plan, budget, officials and volunteers. Instead, there is mutual love and respect with a believing focus on the plans and power of God — that He will build His dwelling into a most holy place.

Father, the church as a universal Body of believers is a blessing. Wherever we go, we meet those with like mind and a love for Jesus Christ. Yet the local church can be a challenge. We are bombarded by the ideas of the world and the tricks of Satan. If a member is fooled by either, that one person can stir up trouble for others. Instead of loving one another, we can get caught in power struggles and conflict over ministry methods. You promised to build Your church. This day, I bring that promise back to You and ask You to continue in patience as You build in us a dwelling place for Yourself.

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