Church is Exhibit A of God’s kingdom
Through a series of recent events, I’ve been challenged to clarify my own understanding of God’s purpose in and through this thing called “the Church.” In the span of a few days, I’ve had conversations with folks who see themselves as Christians, yet have no interest in nor use for the Church, which they refer to as “organized religion.” More likely than not, the people who ask me to officiate weddings and funerals, and aren’t associated with Lake Tahoe Community Presbyterian Church, might characterize themselves as Independent Christians. Now stop and think about that for a moment lest the oxymoron slip past you.
We’re used to people employing adjectives like independent to qualify or otherwise spiff-up the more traditional categories that have suffered the stigma of political incorrectness – sounds more with-it. Why merely call yourself a Christian when you can customize it or personalize it? It’s like saying “I’ll identify myself as a Christian, but don’t lump me in with those other people that the media stereotypes as “Christian.” One person called himself a “thinking Christian,” and another, after learning that I was a Presbyterian pastor, felt it necessary to distance himself from me by clarifying that he was a New Testament Christian – I guess that makes him the real deal.
During a men’s fellowship breakfast, we left the scheduled discussion to spend some time discussing our collective understanding of the Church. The comments all underlined the futility of trying to live a life pleasing to God apart from participation in an intentional community of other Christians. Our postmodern culture has redefined “living” and “the good life” to mean the unbridled, individual, pursuit of happiness in terms of wealth, power, prestige, and pleasure. All this comes at the cost of true personhood, which the Bible defines in terms of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ.
It’s identified as our “walk” or way of living, and is characterized by trust (faith-inÐaction), obedience and servanthood to the risen and reigning Christ. It doesn’t stop there, for when we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to say “Jesus is my Lord,” we become a part of this new reality called the Church. Which is God’s design for our personal nurture and growth; our life of ministry and service for the sake of others who make up the Church. Most importantly the Church is God’s “Exhibit A” of the Kingdom of God to this present age. We are called together to be the presence of Jesus Christ – His life, His truth, and His redemptive mission to the world. The New Testament is about relationships, beginning to end. What is impossible for us through our sinful human nature, God has done for us in Jesus Christ in order to create a relationship with us that did not previously exist.
Because God’s purpose is that each of us become like Christ (that Christ be formed in us), the Church, characterized by Christ’s presence in and through its members, is the manifestation of God’s love, mercy and grace in the world. To bring it closer to home, LTCPC, and all of the Christian congregations are people called in Christ to love and live life in community together for the purpose of being the living witness of the Kingdom of God here in on the South Shore.
Do we blow it? Sure do! When the “independents” throw up charges of sinners and hypocrites, do they stick? Yup. But the fact that we recognize God’s call to intentionally work out our salvation by relating, loving, growing, encouraging and serving together, is witness to the reality of God, and His redeeming mission to this world through this [imperfect] thing we call the Church. Independent Christians? What’s that about?
– Steve Blocher is pastor at Lake Tahoe Community Presbyterian Church.