Christ Loves the Church – But Do We?

73616489_de343e0f42_mThere’s a story about a man who loved the children in his neighborhood. When they called to him he waved. When he gardened, they gathered around him and chattered enthusiastically. The relationship seemed mutually nourishing.

On one occasion the man decided to have the gravel in his driveway replaced with concrete. The workers came, completed the job, and left.

The neighborhood children could not resist the wet concrete and enthusiastically carved their initials into it.

When the owner came home and found the driveway decorated with initials, his affection for children seemed to cool. He scolded them, sending them home crying.

One annoyed parent accosted him. “It appears you don’t like children after all,” she chided. The man replied, “I like children in the abstract, but not in the concrete.”

A surprising number of self-professed Christians appear to feel somewhat like that about the church. In an abstract way, church is a good idea — a place for children to learn the Ten Commandments; a good site for the occasional wedding; a setting for pleasant carols and Christmas skits. It’s even okay as a place for worship, but not necessarily weekly worship which would call for sustained, practical, and responsible involvement.

The Scriptures do not support such a vague, detached view. Instead, they tell us that for true believers, belonging to the body of Christ in substantial ways is serious business.

For example, the main word for “church” in both Testaments means an assembly.  More than that, it can mean an assembly meeting at the call of a herald. When Christians gather in one place to worship the Living God they do so in answer to God’s summons: “Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6).

My wife and I usually arrive for Sunday morning worship 15 minutes before the service begins. We sit quietly for personal reflection.

I love it Sunday after Sunday when the prelude ends and the pastor steps to the pulpit to say, “Let us stand for the call to worship.” That invitation quickens the spirit and sets the stage for what’s to follow.

The call to worship! For me this is a moment for believers to recognize again that we have been summoned by God to come together for a high hour of worship. It is he who calls us and him whom we worship.

Moreover, the major biblical word for church meaning “an assembly” can also mean, “called out” — that is called out from our various locations to assemble for worship. In the New Testament the word is translated “church” for 112 of its 115 appearances.

The call to worship is God’s call to those who are his redeemed. Someone writes, “Wherever the Holy Spirit unites worshiping souls to Christ you have the mystery of the church.” And this is a visible, audible, active gathering.

At a youth gathering I fell into conversation with the man who had been hired to manage the public address system. While setting things up in the retreat center he said to me, “I’m a born again Christian but I haven’t been inside a church building in many years.” He then added, “And there are tens of thousands of people out there who are just like me.” He seemed to be bragging that Christians can be loners.

One could wonder how he would respond to the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (in the offering of his own body) (Ephesians 5:25). Multitudes answer God’s call to gather regularly to celebrate that completed sacrifice and worship God in Christ.

Christ’s sacrificial love was obviously not to make believers loners, nor to prompt them to think loosely of some mere abstraction. It was to demonstrate love concretely manifested at Calvary and to recall that love wherever a body of believers is called by the Father to gather.

Think of the reality of it. When we gather in a physical setting, however lofty or lowly, we can claim afresh Christ’s promise, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).

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Photo credit: J Merz (via flickr.com)

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2 thoughts on “Christ Loves the Church – But Do We?

  1. Hi Bishop Don: I note you appreciate the beginning of a service with “The Call to Worship.” Me too. I recall you telling pastors once that the announcements need not be set apart at the beginning for they are part of the worship activity of that worshipping body during the week. And why wait till the congregation is 10 minutes or more into a service to say, “Now we begin our worship service with…?” You nailed it well. Roy C. Kenny
    Hey, some of your readers might like my blog, rkennysite.wordpress.com

  2. “I like children in the abstract, but not in the concrete.’’ is a good punchline .It took me by surprise. To use that new punctuation mark of the internet age, known as the ‘emoticon’ – 

    Until a few years ago,I used to go to church weekly,when I felt like it or if it was’convenient’.I used to go on Christmas Day and Easter Day too because they were happy and celebratory.I wasn’t always so keen on Good Friday or Holy Thursday . Maundy Thursday we call it in UK ( perhaps that’s universal) – a day of vigil, charity and foot washing .I wanted to wait til Sunday,when everything was happily resolved on Ressurection Day. Now Good Friday is most special to me.I’d hate to miss church and Stations of the Cross that day.

    I think I used to be a fair weather Christian. Eventually I realized I hadn’t fully converted to faith in Jesus as my Saviour.

    When I read John Wesley I was astonished to learn that, even by his own admission ,Wesley didn’t convert to full Christianity until 24th May 1738,a full 13 years after he’d been ordained deacon in the Anglican church ! Until his 1738 conversion ,he said he had no notion of inner holiness and was a contented sinner.

    This discovey about John Wesley made me look anew at my own spiritual life.I saw I was a semi – detached and uncommitted Christian.I needed that sustained, practical, and responsible involvement you mention .I needed consistent church worship ,at least weekly.My Bible reading and prayer needed to be more concerted and regular too.
    I felt like a sham Christian ,half hearted.It was a shock. For a while I just felt guilty,even started fearing hell.A kind friend convinced me of God’s love for me and that hell was not an option for me if I had faith.Well I knew I did have faith ,just not much application.There’s a word currently unfashionable – discipline.I realized if I was to grow I needed to ditch that vague approach you mention ,Pastor.I needed to follow the disciplines of my faith,as written in my Bible.,I needed to apply to my life. the words I regularly spoke in church as I joined in the communal prayers.

    I too like to arrive at church early ,for quiet settled reflection. It’s unsettling to arrive just in the nick of time and feel rushed.When that used to happen and the Preparation part of the service began ,I always felt like King Ethelred – unready . Now I like to think of it as an athlete would , getting ready for the 100 metres.Get there early,get in the right frame of mind and heart.Calmly and steadily take one’s place in the blocks – calm ,relaxed but alert ,then start fully alert and ,as they say nowadays ,’in the zone .

    I think it’s probably nearly impossible to be a Christian loner.Maybe a lighthouse keeper has to be.Then I’m sure our Lord the Holy Spirit will be enabling & God will be with the lonesome faithful.So too, the faithful prisoner in solitary confinement.

    Otherwise – “For where two or three come together in my name there am I with them”(Matthew 18:20) is a guarantee God will be with us. We can be assured the Lord will keep His promise. Of course I believe the Lord will hear our private prayers to Him.But His words in Matthew 18: 20 suggests He also excpects us to assemble regularly in His name ,if we can. That’s church. Christ loves the church and so should we.

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