What does it mean to “be” The Church?

It seems that “being” The Church is cool these days–especially when people claiming to “be” The Church contrast it with “going” to church. But what does it actually mean to “be” The Church? Let’s look at what The Church is, and then what it means to “be” it.

First, what is “The Church”? The Church (in Christianity) is all those who believe in Jesus as the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Living God. This confession is the rock or foundation on which Jesus declared that he would build his church (Matt 16: 13-18). That means all believers in Jesus Christ as humanity’s Messiah are The Church, and each of them is a “living stone” built upon Christ’s pillars of truth (1 Peter 2:1-5).

So what does it mean to “be” The Church? Webster’s 1828 Dictionary suggests that the verb “be” means “to stand; remain or be fixed; hence to continue; … It forms, with the infinitive, a particular future tense, which often expresses duty, necessity, or purpose.” This suggests that “to be” The Church means to have an existence or presence that matches the purposes for which it was designed and intended.

So what are the purposes of The Church? The New Testament suggests several:

  1. To evangelize non-believers (Matt 28:19).
  2. To disciple believers (i.e, train them in such a way as to produce spiritual growth and maturity) so they can replicate themselves (Matt 28:19-20; Eph 4:11-16; Eph 6:4; 1 Cor 3:5-16; 2 Tim 1:5-14).
  3. To gather together for collective worship, prayer and mutual encouragement, acting in unity for the building of the kingdom of God even while exercising our individual gifts and talents (John 4:19-24; Eph 4:1-16; Heb 10:23-25; Rev 5:9-14; Luke 19:45-46; Matt 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17).
  4. To minister to and care for those in need within The Church (Acts 6:1-4; 1 Tim 5:3-16; Rom 12:3-13; Mark 12:31; Matt 22:39-40).
  5. To minister to and care for those in need outside The Church (Mark 12:31; Matt 22:39-40; Matt 25:31-46).
  6. To glorify God by prophesying to the surrounding community (i.e., speaking truth into the culture) through our words and deeds (e.g., 1 Peter 2:9-20).

The concerns I have about the way people (whom I love) telling me that they are “being” The Church is that they seem to have a narrow idea of what that means. Usually, friends tell me they’re headed off to “be” The Church when they are going down to serve the homeless or needy. This suggests that the people who are really “being” The Church are those whose focus or action is on #5 (and maybe #6) above.

This service is noble and is one aspect of being The Church, but it is an incomplete picture of what it means to be The Church. Without pursuing the other aspects of being The Church we can’t really achieve God’s stated purposes for The Bride of Christ, can we? Being The Church involves pursuing ALL of God’s purposes for The Church. Otherwise it’s like saying that my bride is only really “being” my wife when she feeds me and praises me on Facebook (thanks for that, though, honey!).

Paul foresaw this problem when he warned Christians to avoid thinking that there is only one really useful set of gifts or activities in The Church. He wrote (1 Cor 12:17-31),

“If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

“27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in The Church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts.” (NAS)

People who think that they are “being” The Church only when they’re only doing one or two of The Church’s purposes (such as what Paul calls “helps” in verse 28 above) risk developing a tunnel vision of The Church that weakens and dilutes The Church and The Gospel. Each congregation of believers ought to be pursuing all of what it means to “be” The Church—when this happens, we will have the LORD’s desired impact in our world.

Discipleship Lesson: Journalists for Jesus!

writingHere is fun and easy idea for helping your children (and their parents) learn about the process used for putting together the Gospels. We did this activity with our whole-family Bible study last week and it worked really well; you can do this with any small group, but it’s particularly fun with tween-age children. 

The point of the exercise is to illustrate how the gospel accounts were constructed; how people can come up with slightly different versions and descriptions and details about events; and how they all still can be reliable sources of information despite these differences.

The interviews
Have children interview adults about an event that occurred in the adult’s life; consider having multiple children interview the adults; assign one older child to be the recorder of the information. Choose some fun or happy event, or one that isn’t particularly lengthy to describe; it would be best to make the event something the interviewers were not present for. In our group we had children interview parents from a different family about how the married couple met.
Have the children report back to the group about the event, telling it in their own words; the recorder can do the reporting, but let the other children chime in when there is a detail they remember that the recorder doesn’t include, and let the interviewed adults insert vital corrections.
Point out when some details differ slightly; that the order of the events as described might not have been the exact order in which the events occurred; that the adults may have remembered or described some details slightly differently; and that the reports are still truthful.

Bible Study
When we read the gospels, we might envision Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John secluding themselves in a desert retreat and writing their books straight through from beginning to end. But it probably didn’t work that way. While the authors of the gospels used some common material, it’s also helpful to think of these men as first-century historians or journalists.
In fact, they probably put together their reports in a way that is similar to the interview activity we just did. We get a clue that this might be the case from the opening verses of Luke:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4, NAS)
Ask the basic reporter’s questions about this passage (Who, what, where, when, why, how); let the people, including children, in the group answer. The leader should make the following points when appropriate.

Question: Who wrote this, and who was it written to?
Answer: The author does not tell us his name. Very early in Christian history Luke was accepted as being the author (a good Study Bible or Bible Dictionary will help you with this point). The book was written to “Theophilus” (thee-OFF-ill-us). We don’t know exactly who this is. It may be a person named Theophilus; it may be a made-up name to protect the identity of a real person; or it may be written to all Christians, because in Greek theo means God and philo is a word for friend, so theo-philus meansfriend of God.

Q: What is being written?
A: “An account of the things accomplished among us.” Luke is telling his readers about Jesus’ life and ministry, and later, the experiences of the early church (Acts). 

Q: When was it written?
A: To get this, we have to think about who was interviewed to write the book; the events “were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” Luke doesn’t claim to be a witness to Jesus’ life, but often uses the first person (“we”) in the book of Acts. Note that your interviewers didn’t see the events that occurred, but they were able to talk to eyewitnesses who did see or participate in the events. Luke’s sources were the eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life, including his death, burial, and resurrection. (More than 500 people saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion and death, and many of them were still alive when Paul wrote his letters; 1 Cor 15:3-7.) The fact that Luke was writing when his eyewitnesses were still alive is important, because it means if he made things up, people were around who would correct him, exposing his account as false; therefore, he had a strong motivation to give a truthful, accurate history. Since the apostles were not afraid to challenge and correct each other (e.g., Acts 15), Luke would strive to be accurate. Note that this is how your interviews worked; did a recorder make a mistake in his or her reporting, or leave out an important or interesting detail? Was it easy to correct the error?

Q: How was the information compiled?
A: Luke “investigated everything carefully from the beginning.” Lacking Google, he relied on eyewitness testimony. Would his information (starting from before the conception of John the Baptist and going through Jesus’ resurrection) have been acquired in the exact order it occurred? No, he probably picked up bits and pieces of different events and conversations, depending on who he was interviewing, and what they saw and remembered. In fact, Luke felt compelled “to write it out for you in consecutive order.” Remind your interviewers what it was like gathering the information just from the couple of people they talked to. (One of our 10-year old “recorders” even wrote the information out in the order it was received, and then during the “reporting” intuitively reorganized the information chronologically when he told the story.)

Q: Why was this account written down so carefully?
A: Luke writes that he did this so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” Luke’s purpose is to communicate clearly truths, to reinforce the information that Theophilus already had heard. 

Conclusion
By conducting interviews with eyewitnesses about events, the participants in this discipleship activity can learn some important lessons about how the gospels and Acts were put together. If your experience is like ours, it will be fun; there will be some laughing in the telling of the stories; and there may be some poignant moments. I have to believe that as Luke was interviewing the people who knew and loved Jesus, it had to be the same. It wasn’t some sterile, boring lecture, it was real people relating and reliving their personal contact with the most wonderful and loving person they ever knew. The fact that many of those people were still alive when Luke wrote it motivated him to write it accurately. In itself, Luke’s introduction makes a great case for the accuracy of his gospel.