Do any of the following statements about church sound familiar?
- The same people always run this church.
- If they don’t like it, it isn’t going to happen.
- We don’t allow drums in our church.
- You could never get away with that in my church.
- You could never wear that in my church and be an officer.
- Their church is liberal and our church is on the conservative side.
How do these comments relate to the actual purpose of the church? Jesus’ words in Matt. 16:18 “I will build My church” were not in reference to buildings, but rather to building a body of believers that would attract all manner of people. Arbitrarily setting up boundaries on dress, style of worship and worship music based on unbiblical personal preferences can be tantamount to saying to the worshipper, “God doesn’t accept what you bring to the worship setting.”
Church is people
If we agree that when Jesus stated He was going to build His church He was speaking of people, surely our major emphasis should be building up people. The church, in the truest sense is comprised of impure, impulsive, flawed individuals drawn from the world into a meaningful relationship with Jesus. They believe in Jesus, on Jesus and things about Jesus. Their lives reflect their relationship with Him and they are compelled, even while being transformed, to inform others of His unfailing love.
I don’t believe that dress, diet, drums, designer worship service nor being conservative or liberal are the most critical items of concern for His church. His return trip will be for a church that reflects His characteristics. Paul said it well in Phil. 5:2: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
Church growth centers on love
Eph. 5:23 (TNIV) states, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” We are the body and as members of the body we must engage in building up and not belittling; engage in acts of kindness and not add kindling; engage on a course of compassion and not in a spirit of combativeness.
Building the church was the brainchild of Jesus and He has gifted the church for both service and survival. In John 13:34-35 the idea of church growth centers on love being the visible magnet. Love expressed in Christlikeness will draw and build.
We help build when we encourage each other to use our God-given gifts as He gives evidence of them. Eph. 4:11,12 tells us, “So Christ gave…that the body of Christ may be built up.”
Church: a theatre of grace
In Acts of the Apostles Ellen White states that “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world” (p. 19).
She also wrote in 1896: “The church is the theater of his grace, in which he delights in making experiments of mercy on human hearts. The Holy Spirit is his representative, and it works to effect transformations so wonderful that angels look upon them with astonishment and joy. Heaven is full of rejoicing when the members of the human family are seen to be full of compassion for one another, loving one another as Christ has loved them” Special Testimony to Battle Creek Church (PH154) (18–19).
The church is His. We didn’t vote it into existence and we can’t vote it out of existence. However, for myself, I’m voting to stay right here in the church and to keep building, especially since Jesus Christ paid the fee required for membership.
—Gil Webb is vice president for administration of the Mid-America Union.