“John, if I walked in through the doors of the church, the roof and the walls would most likely collapse in on me.” This statement made by a man that I’ve gotten to know during a couple of years in California made me laugh aloud. Not just because of the imagery his statement created but also the misconception that he had about the church and those who attend it.
Because he and I had become friends, he explained that he was not worthy or good enough to be in there. Just walking through the doors felt alien to him. I told him that none of us, including myself (especially myself), Would be able to attend each Sunday if that were the case.
It brought to mind immediately a quote made by a favorite author of mine, who said, “The church is a hospital for sinners” – a perfect description.
“The church” has been perceived in many different fashions during the past 2,000 years. It has been seen as the heart and center of the community and at other times simply an institution along the lines of other civic organizations. There have been times when the church was viewed in a negative sense and other times very positive.
Our governments both local and national believed at one time or another the church to be such a positive element to the city or the country that laws were created at various times to help promote the health of churches in the communities.
The Greek word from which we get our word church is “ecclesia,” and in classical Greek usage meant a gathering or assembly of people, most often associated with early politics in Greece.
However, in the Bible the word church was used to identify the gathering of believers in Jesus and literally meant the called-out ones. “Called out” for what, you ask? To tell the world about Jesus, his life, death and resurrection and the opportunity now for mankind to be reunited with God because of his sacrifice. Jesus himself gave the church that job description.
But the church is not the building you see with a steeple, stained glass, potlucks and pews; the church is people – flawed people, hurting people, young, old, married, single, rich, poor … just regular people, following Jesus.
These people over the centuries have fulfilled many roles in their communities. Besides trying to accomplish the main goal that Jesus gave us, the church has always been the greatest source of social needs being met. Seeing and meeting physical needs has always been the hallmark of the local church. We are motivated by the example of Jesus and by his reminder that “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). The church serves Jesus when they serve others – that’s terrific motivation.
We have to remember that the church is the only God-ordained human institution in place designed and empowered to do God’s will. A lot of organizations in the world do good work for other people but none have the eternal power the church does. In my 25 years as a pastor I am continually amazed at the wide-ranging ways the church has reached out to help people: from establishing medical clinics in the Five Points area of Denver, to food and clothing closets in San Jose, California, from helping people by providing financial training classes to marital and premarital counseling.
These needs were met because members of the church saw the need and desired to meet it.
Not only does the church have a passion for meeting the physical needs of people in their community, but the church also has a passion to help people understand who God is, what he has done for us through his son Jesus. You can see this passion acted out throughout the week in Bible studies at homes and at church as well as worship services designed to encourage “the called-out ones” (the church) each Sunday. These times are meant to invite those who are exploring questions about God.
My friend in California did find out the walls of the church did not fall in on top of him when he did come to worship service, and he also found the people there were just like him. “The church” is a great place to go if you have any questions about God, if you are seeking spiritual answers in your life.
The old saying that “church would be perfect if it weren’t for all the people in it” is so true and yet the church is so grand. God loves “the church” and so do I.
One author has made a very good distinction of the church. I’m paraphrasing: He said the church is not an organization but an organism. This is so true; Jesus’ description of the church was characterized by wording that was used to describe the family: brothers, sisters, father and mother. It’s not just an organization for doing good but an organism – a living, breathing entity made up of followers of Jesus. Come in on some Sunday and see for yourself.
The Rev. John Myers is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Salida.