The church today is irrelevant, having no bearing on society at large. That is the view of many people today. But churches do matter and having a right understanding of what the church is has incredible relevance for today.
What is the church? It is a question that is overlooked at worst and misunderstood at best. Answers to that question vary in degree but for the most part come in the form of “the church is a building” or “it is a place people go.” And if truth be told, when we look at our communities and practically see a church on every corner, you could understand why many might think that. In their estimation, churches simply don’t matter.
Historically, the attitude that churches are not part of society is relatively a new trend. Throughout the medieval ages, the colonial era on through the great move out west and settlements in our own region, the Pacific Northwest, the church was at the center of that society. Towns and villages were built around the church. As a matter of fact, the city that I reside in, Cashmere was once called Mission due to the fact that a church was established and the love of Christ penetrated that community. The reason why the church played such a crucial role in those early communities is because it offered a sense of stability amidst the chaos of the surrounding world. In addition, it was a rallying point for both love and the truth of the Gospel to be heralded and for people to see outside of themselves, to the greater reality of love for Christ and for people.
How do we define the church? The church as articulated in the Scriptures never refers to it being simply a location, or a place to go. Rather, it uses incredibly meta-physical descriptions such as “a body” (1 Cor. 12:12-27), “a house of living stones” (1 Pt. 2:5), and a “household [family] of God” (1 Tim. 3:15). To put it another way, the church of Jesus is not an organization but an organism. It is a living, vibrant entity that bears the light of the truth to the world and according to Jesus himself, “cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14). The church is the people, and since people are living things, they move within the community, stretching out their hands to love and impact people’s lives. Do these people meet in buildings? Yes. Do these buildings have signs in their driveways, saying “So and so Baptist Church meets here”? Yes. But the church is in the building, in the community of people who meet there.
Is it possible that the prevailing negative attitude regarding the church is the church’s fault? While I don’t think it is right or fair for the church to bear the responsibility entirely, I do however believe that there is some ownership on our part. It is possible that we have locked ourselves in our sanctuaries and have been lulled into contentment in thinking that as long as we are okay, then all is right with the world.
Churches and church leaders, we have to remember that God has providentially placed our churches in communities to be a part of that community. The church matters, and it is up to us to show them why, by being a beacon of hope and service, aiding people of all walks of life and demonstrating the love of Christ.