January 19, 1993
KEEP OUT--MEMBERS ONLY!
Is this merely a sign on Johnny’s backyard tree house? Or one we might find on the back door of the meeting place for an exclusive organization? Perhaps, but unfortunately some people think it is also the sign on the front door of every church. Consequently they think they are not welcome inside the door.
What is the church anyway? Only a building? Another exclusive club? A place reserved for religious zealots? A social organization for humanitarians that like to feed the hungry and give clothes to the poor? Or some sort of secret society that makes its members do strange things?
Most people hold one or more definitions like these, at least some time in their life. I used to think church was something you “did on Sunday,” a ritual like school on Monday to Friday and movies on Saturday nights. It took me some time before I thought of church as a place people went to find out about God and worship Him.
However, not every “church” helps people find about God, at least God as He reveals Himself in the Bible and in Christ. For that reason, the church of my youth and young adulthood didn’t do much for me. I could not have offered worship based on true knowledge but attended Sunday services simply because it was the thing to do.
It was not until my life turned upside down that my reasons for going to church changed. I wanted to know God and wanted His help to set it right again. I did not always like what I heard but persisted until the truth of who He is and what He has done became clear to me. Only then did I begin to understand what “church” is all about.
Church is not just a building, even though we call the building “the church”. It is not just an event either, even though we say we enjoyed “going to church”. And it most certainly is not a game; we cannot “play church” and be honest with ourselves, others and God.
Rather, church (specifically the Christian church) is a collection of people who love God and have faith in Jesus Christ. His church is a living body, a vibrant community of folks who admit they are sinful and know they cannot earn eternal life but have received it as a gift from God. They meet together to worship Him as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord of their lives, and to be instructed in their understanding of God. When functioning as God intended, members of His church lovingly encourage each another to forsake sin and serve God and one another.
While this list of “church” activities may seem unfamiliar, it is not bizarre. A genuinely biblical church is never anything like a secret society where its members do weird things.
Neither is the church exclusive. While the body is made up of those who believe, anyone who wants to learn about God can attend church gatherings. Even if a person does not believe, what better place to find out what believing means?
Is every group that calls itself a “church” like what I just described? Sadly not. Some talk about God but have departed from the Bible and historical Christian beliefs. Others operate more like social clubs than centers of worship. A few call themselves a church yet worship Satan. For these reasons, if anyone really wants to find out what “church” is supposed to be they need to look beyond all the signs and labels and put their foot inside the door.