CHURCH: IT’S COMPLICATED
1 Peter 1: 13-2: 2
What is a church? Baptists have been able to distill the definition of a church to just a few words. ” New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a local body of baptized believers who are associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel, observing the two ordinances of Christ, committed to His teachings, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.” (The Baptist Faith and Message) It should be noted that Baptists do not deny the universal church. We do not think we are the only ones, well most of us anyway. But for most of us, when we think of church we think of a local congregation. No matter what brand we are, we all gather, worship, and fellowship on a local level.
This definition is from our Baptist Faith and Message and it is simple and direct. And yet we probably have a problem understanding exactly what a church is. I will tell you this much, church is the most intrusive organization in our lives. God intends for the idea of church to intrude every area of lives and to take a precedent in the way we think. It is simple but hard to understand. It is, as they say about certain relationships, complicated.
A local church is made up of odd people. After all, everyone is a bit odd if you use yourself as the measure. People have strange habits, think strange thoughts, do strange things. There are some church people you don’t like. I know of folk who will not go to church because they don’t like someone in the church. I have had people tell me that they would not go to Sunday School because they did not like someone in the class. People get mad, offended easily and do not forgive, so they stop going to church.
It is a strange organization. It is made up of people from different backgrounds, different incomes, different levels and kinds of education. Some are happy, and others are grouchy. Some love giving and some are stingy. Some are outgoing and others are not. It makes you wonder how anything called a church could actually exist.
It is obvious that the church is as worldly as any organization, which is why we must constantly preach the Word of God to the Church. We are people of the world. We bring in with us attitudes from the world. We look like the world, act like the world. From that perspective, every church is worldly. And God himself knows this even before he created the church.
But, Peter, like many other New Testament writers remind us that God builds his church from flawed people like us. You may have seen the internet pictures of houses built from recycled materials. One was made of wood pallets. A couple of houses were made of recycled shipping containers. One was a very nice-looking home. We are much like that. God recycles sinners to make this beautiful object called church.
First Peter notes that this is God’s work. He is the one who has redeemed us and saved us from judgment and sin. I watched a video of a dog in a pound. The dog was scared to be touched much less to be cuddled by a nine-year-old boy. But a dog trainer took the dog, helped the dog overcome his fear of people and taught him seven basic commands in just six days. And the 9-year-old boy, who came to own him, cuddled the dog and the dog loved it. Don’t you think that if a dog trainer can make such a difference in a little dog in just six days that God can do wonders with us? Well as you might guess we are a little harder to train than a dog.
God called us to be holy. But we obviously have a problem being holy. So, what is the solution? God gave us the church so that we might become a holy people. In the Old Testament, Israel was the people of God, his own holy people. They were called to live by his rules as opposed to the world’s rules. Now, God has called us to be his church, his people just as in the Old Testament. In fact, Peter himself said that we were Israel, a royal people and God has given us a set of rules.
Peter lays out for us some of the rules for living our lives together in Christ. We are to put away all malice, and all deceit, and hypocrisy, envy and all kinds of slander. I think it is interesting that Peter zeroed in on these elements of Christian living because I think that is where human weakness lies. As worldly people, we are quick to be malicious toward others. We are deceitful. Here are a few synonyms found in the dictionary that may help us to see more clearly: grudge, ill will, spite, spitefulness, venom; bile; animosity, animus, antipathy, enmity; hate, hatefulness, hatred, meanness; bitterness, resentment. Don’t you think we all express some of these almost every day? And deceit, how often do we shape the truth to get our way or to defend ourselves or to make ourselves look good? Yet, we are called to reject these attitudes in our relationship to each other. We are to be like new born babies who are nourished on the spiritual milk of the Gospel so that we may grow to be spiritually mature.
Israel was called to live in a covenant relationship with God and with each other. Now, where have we heard that word covenant? Oh, yes, it is part of our definition of a church, “a local body of baptized believers who are associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel.” It is biblical and in this is how we become the people of God, who are marked with characteristics like these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Covenant is a binding agreement that includes God. A Covenant relationship in church is between the individual church members and God. You can see our obligation to each other all over the New Testament. Bear one another’s burdens. Love one another. Pray for each other. You can see it even in 1Corinthians 5 where the church is to discipline a member who is living in a terrible sexual sin. When we come to Christ, God puts us in a church and expects us to be there, accountable to each other and to him. You will be a stunted Christian if you are not active in a church. And there is never a time when you are so mature as a Christian that you no longer need to be part of a church. And if you ever think you are that mature, it is a sure sign that you are not.
Being part of the church means that we are ministers to each other. We are strength to each other when we fail. We hold each other up, lift each other up. And when we are sinned against we forgive each other because God forgave us and because sometimes we will need to be forgiven.
If we are Christians, then we are a part the church. And yeah, our relationship is a little complicated. But it is a relationship authored by God himself. It is one that is held together by the power and work of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s expression of himself to the world. What a privilege it is to be a part of God’s church!