What makes a church… a church?c

by Sep 10, 2008

In preparation for a few upcoming sermons on what makes a church, I’ve been digging into the New Testament passages that describe what a church is supposed to look like. The first thing that struck me from this overview is that no biblical authors seem to be able to talk about the church without using some kind of metaphor. Almost every description of the church includes a word-picture to help us envision it.

Since no metaphor is perfect (try describing yourself with a single metaphor – it’s impossible even for one individual!), you’ll find many different pictures that portray the church as it’s supposed to be. I’ll spend the next few blog posts exploring some of these portraits.

The Church is a Family.
This is the picture used most often in the New Testament to describe the church. Jesus calls God our Father in the Lord’s Prayer, and Paul expands on that idea by explaining that we’re God’s children and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17). We’re getting the same inheritance from our fabulously wealthy dad as Jesus does!

Being God’s kids makes us brothers and sisters to each other (1 Corinthians 8:11-13). Think about that for a minute.

Think about your flesh-and-blood brothers and sisters. No matter what happens in life, you’re stuck with them, like they are with you. Sure, you’ll get annoyed with each other. Maybe you’ll even stop talking to each other. For a while. But eventually you’ll have to see each other at Christmas or Thanksgiving. You’ll make a joke about their new haircut, and everything will be back to normal.

That’s how it’s supposed to work with our spiritual brothers and sisters too. Instead of quickly leaving a church when we get annoyed at someone (the normal strategy in our individualistic attitude toward the church), God calls us to figure out a way to work it out and reunite.

Some people in the church might become like loving fathers to us, and others like devoted sons (Philippians 2:22). And every church needs a few affectionate mother-hens like Rufus’ mother in the Roman church (Romans 16:13).

Being an earthly parent is tough work! It takes patience and discipline and proactive concern. Being a child takes humility and respect. And none of this changes in the church.

Like a family, the church is expected to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). It’s through this kind of love that God will “establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (3:13).