When Are You In Church?

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:20

If a few followers of Jesus are gathered together in His name and He is there as He promised, doesn’t that mean by definition that you have “The Church”? If the church is the ekklesia, the Greek word for those who are called, then whenever we have a few followers called out by Jesus and gathered with Him, then we have Church. Church is not about where you meet. It doesn’t matter if you are in a cathedral or a cottage, and huge auditorium or a humble home, a public community room or under a tree. The location is not church. The church is those who have been called by Jesus and gather in His name. So not only are you in church when you gather with any other believers you ARE the church when you are with another follower of Jesus.

So what does it mean of you are in church whenever you are together with other believers? It means at least a few things that come to mind. First of all it means that you are to always be about worshiping God. We usually think that we “go to church” in order to worship God. Well if you are “in church” whenever you are with one or more followers, then your actions should be worshipful. Paul tells us that when we come together, 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:19-20). Gathering together, no matter the place or occasion,  should always be an act of worship in which our gratitude and love for the Lord comes through.

Secondly it means that we should be demonstrating the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17:21,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. One of the most common excuses people use to not be a Christian is that we can’t even get along with each other. Romans 12:18 says, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”. Being the church together means that we must, absolutely must, defer to one another, submit to one another, bless one another, guard one anothers back, and serve with and for one another.

Thirdly, if we are the church whenever we gather then we must each fulfill our part in the church. Paul speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. HE makes it clear that each person in the Body has an important part to play. Just as the hand, eye, ear, mouth, foot and, nose all have a part to play, so every follower of Jesus has a part to play. There is no room in the Body of Christ for an appendix that can be removed without being missed. When you gather with other followers of Jesus, you are needed. Your prayers are needed. Your experiences are needed. Your song is needed. Your testimony of what God is doing in your life is needed. If you fail to bless the rest of he Body with what God is doing in you then the whole body suffers.

One way of thinking about this issue of church is this. We are not about doing church or going to church. We are about being church. Being those “called out” by Jesus to follow him everywhere, everyday. You don’t go to church any more than you go to family. You are church just as you are family.

The Unanswered Prayer of Jesus

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” John 17:20, 21

As a pastor I can not count the number of times that I have had people ask me why some prayers go unanswered. Falling back on my biblical and theological  training provided me with the standard responses, either the prayer was not in accord with the will of God or the timing was not right, the answer would come later, or the answer would come in a way that we do not expect but that in God’s wisdom will be far better than we could have hoped or asked for. I still am convinced that those answers are in line with what the Bible teaches. But those answers don’t suffice in all situations. The text from John 17 is the most glaring of examples.

Unless I am completely oblivious to something that is obvious to the rest of the world, this 2,000 year old prayer from Jesus the Son to God the Father is so far unanswered. For the life of me I struggle with why. Clearly Jesus knew the will of the Father when He prayed this prayer so and can’t be that unity among Christians is out of God’s will. It also seems that God would want that unity to be manifest sooner rather than later. Afterall that unity is supposed to be evidence of our relationship to God, a way for Him to be glorified, and a means for lost people to give their lives to Jesus. So God would seem to want to answer that prayer. If so then why do the followers of Jesus still stab one another in the back, mistrust one another, gossip about other beleivers in the name of prayer concerns, attack one anothers motives and integrity, and generally not love one another very well? The only answer that I have come up with so far is that we are not cooperating with the Lord. That’s a nice way of saying that in our sinfulness we are refusing to love one another as He has loved us. We are refusing to give one another the grace that he has given us. We are refusing to serve one another as He has served us. Bottom line, it’s us.

What really grips me is the realization that we must be breaking God’s heart. Jesus cries out to the Father for us to be unified. He does so in the shadow of the crucifixion ready to face it’s agony in submission to the Father. His prayer for unity comes from the core of His being and we ignore it and even actively strive against its fulfillment. “Love God”. “Love your neighbor”. “Do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith”. “Show forbearenace to one another out of love for Christ”. “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men”. Those are only a few of the places in God’s Word that come to mind. How many more exortations do we need to realize that Jesus is serious about our unity in Him?

Unity does not mean uniformity. We are not called to all be exactly like one another. Having different ideas and practices is not only acceptable, it is essential. The ealry church often wrestled with the issue of uniformity. It especially came out when they debated the implications of Gentiles coming to Jesus and bringing a whole new culture. The bottom line repsonse in Acts 15 was that the leaders of the church acknowledged that God was doing something that lead some of them in different directions. But that no matter those God given differences, they needed to honor and love one another in Christ.

I think about the implications of this for house churches and mega churches working together, for followers of Jesus who support Obama and those who support McCain, for sprinkling baptizers and immersion baptizers, for Calvinists and Arminians, and on and on it could go. I am not saying that we all need to believe and do the same things all the time. What I am saying is that we need to respect the other parts of the Body of Christ. We need to be willing to learn from one another and disagree with one another, yet love and honor one another in Jesus.

Someday, when heaven and earth become one, I know that this prayer of Jesus will finally be answered. I just wish that when that day comes, we will have been so united in the love of Christ in this life, that we will have a hard time noticing the change in the life to come. Now that really would be an answer to a prayer, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven”.