With so many churches in the world you’d think that most people would know why they exist and what purpose they serve. Many might say that the church is a building where people worship God, read the Bible and confess their sin. Others see the church as a place to gather together for social functions and activities, a sort of community centre. More cynical ones might say that the church is where people go to get their weekly guilt trip or it’s the place where all the hypocrites meet. (See these two issues addressed in the two previous articles at www.budapesttimes-archiv.bzt.hu) However, many are at a loss as to why the church exists or what its ultimate purpose is.
Well, why does the church exist? How did all these churches get started? Why are there so many different kinds? So many different denominations? What’s the deal with the whole Protestant/Catholic thing anyway? To answer all these questions it’s going to take us a while through a series of articles, but first let’s discuss how the church as an institution was inaugurated.
In the Bible the Book of Acts records that the church began through an event which transpired on the anniversary of the Jewish holiday Pentecost just over 2000 years ago. Jewish tradition holds that Pentecost commemorates the 50 days (or seven weeks) after the Exodus, or Passover, when God gave Moses the Law.
Now for Christians, Pentecost commemorates the 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church. This was prophesised in the Old Testament where God promised His people through Ezekiel the prophet that, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances”.
It was at this moment when the Holy Spirit of God was poured out on His people that the church began.
Human pillars of the church
It turns out that a church is not a place or a building at all. Rather, the church is in fact made up of people. The church is a group of people who God has set apart from the world by the outpouring of His Holy Spirit into the lives of those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. One theologian simply put it this way: “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.” The key word here is “community”.
From this perspective, if you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, then you are in fact a part of the community known as the church. But this seems so simple, perhaps just too simple. Why all the fuss with all the different creeds and denominations then? Why all the controversy over doctrines with correlating church splits, schisms and conflicts?
Even people who have been filled with the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ are not completely exempt from sin. Even though people have been born again through faith in Christ doesn’t mean that they have been made perfect yet. In other words the church is full of born-again sinners.
Yes, they are in the process of becoming more like Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit but nonetheless they are still sinners, and where you have sinners you have every kind of conflict, contempt and controversy. This is why there are so many different denominations and why there have been so many church conflicts throughout the centuries.
God never intended for this to be the case. Through the pages of the New Testament He has called us to unity over and over again within the church even though we are still sinners saved by grace.
The great modern theologian C.S. Lewis once jested about meeting an old crotchety Christian by quipping: “Just think what he’d be like without Christ.”
In reality everyone in the church is in process. All those who are a part of the community of the church should be becoming more like Jesus. We who have placed our faith and trust in Jesus Christ are in the process of being conformed to His image.
Now this is where church should become very exciting. Just think how things would be if we were all becoming more like Jesus. What was Jesus like? He was loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. What a wonderful world it would be if more people were becoming more like Jesus.
Fruits of the ministry
The apostle Peter suggests that if these attributes (the fruit of having the Holy Spirit) are yours and increasing, then you will be made useful to God bearing much fruit in your life.
This fruitfulness should manifest itself in three ways within the people of the church: ministry to God through worship, ministry to believers through nurturing relationships and ministry to the world through outreach and mercy. We will look at these three ministries of the church in our next three articles.
But for now your assignment is not to find a church building to visit but to find a group of Christ followers with whom you can grow in your faith as you become more like Jesus. When you do, then you will really be a part of the community of believers. You will finally really be in church.
– Reverend Bradley S. Belcher is the senior pastor with the International Baptist Church of Budapest, www.ibcbudapest.org. Should you have a question or comment regarding this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.