The church is an important part of God’s plan for the faithful and the world. It is the gathering of people who have committed themselves to God through Jesus Christ and who are equally committed to helping each other grow in faith. It is people seeking to come together to serve God and each other, as well as being God’s agents in the redemption of the world.
That all sounds really good–but the problem is where do we actually find that church? It isn’t that there is a shortage of churches. In North America, churches are plastered all over the landscape. We have small congregations meeting in old buildings. In my area, it is hard to travel more than 5 kilometers on any road without passing at least one building that houses a more or less active congregation. There are huge congregations in new and expanding buildings. There are small groups of friends that get together now and then to pray and study. There are congregations affiliated with international and national and regional denominations and there are congregations that are “one ofs”, the product of some leader or family or social or cultural activity. Which one is the church?
Well, they all are–potentially. And equally true, none of them are–potentially. You see, God didn’t give us much in the way of an organizational chart for the church, nor did he give us a very extensive doctrinal statement. We know that we are supposed to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, his dual divine and human nature, his eventual return and a few related ideas. We know that God envisioned people like pastors and deacons and maybe bishops, depending on the way we translate certain Greek words.
But we don’t know much more than that. There are lots of claims that this or that group is more Biblical than another group but the truth is that beyond some very basic things, the structure and doctrine of the church is flexible and even vague. This vagueness is probably a deliberate choice on God’s part.
We humans are all different–and that means we are going to have different needs when it comes to church. I don’t work well is settings where there is a lot of structure and rigid lines of authority. I am quite at home in the looser structures that Baptists prefer. I also don’t do well in large congregations–while I can enjoy the possibilities and programs of such large congregations, I much prefer the higher level of personal knowledge and intimacy I find in smaller congregations. God, in his divine wisdom and grace, has given us a certain amount of freedom to develop approaches to being church that fit with our personalities and needs.
Some appreciate being part of a church that belongs to a large denomination–as I approach retirement, I certainly appreciate the pension plan that my denomination has been able to develop. But others prefer the simplicity of a few friends getting together in someone’s living room. Again, this is allowed within the flexibility that God has granted the church. It seems to me that size, structure, governing principles, denominational affiliation and so on are all variables that we are free to tinker with and experiment with. We are free to develop and structure and change and innovate, as long as we are working to express our common allegiance to God through Christ and help each other grow in faith.
We need the church. And we need to be part of the church. But we don’t need to be the same. As we begin to understand how our faith works itself out in our lives and relationships, we need to be open to having God’s Holy Spirit lead us into groups that meet our spiritual needs and help us grow and develop in our relationship with God and with each other. And then, when we discover that group, whatever it is and however it looks, we work at helping it become as healthy an expression of church as it can be. We work to build up the faith of its members, to bring each participant closer to God, to create a safe and secure environment where God is glorified and people are loved and we all grow.
May the peace of God be with you.