by Jeannette Haley
If someone were to ask you which church is the true Christian church, what answer would you give? Perhaps you would see an opportunity to invite them to the church you attend. On the other hand, maybe you would list the churches you deem as false. Then again, you might fudge around the question in order to avoid offending anyone, or going into a lengthy dissertation on the history of the church.
The truth is most of us are so thoroughly conditioned by the Americanized version of Christianity that anything outside of our culturally acceptable norm is viewed with suspicion and often with outright disdain. Even people who never darken the door of a church have preconceived ideas of what a church is, or should be, based on their perception of historic cultural practices. As human beings, we are all creatures of habit, finding security in certain institutions and practices that remain stable (at least outwardly) in our fragile world. We all like to think that our idea of the societal role of churches is a permanent part of the landscape to which we are accustomed.
From the early days of American settlement, churches were built right along with settlements, towns and cities across the nation. Because of freedom and liberty, people could build and attend whatever church appealed to their particular religious persuasion. Even in diversity of theology and doctrine, however, there are certain commonly held beliefs among religious people that, except for a remnant, remain unquestioned. The danger is when the majority of people take cultural and religious traditions for granted, it sets up a mindset that is replicated in each succeeding generation without being questioned as to its biblical validity. Three such ideologies are: 1) Christians must pay tithes to the church, and 2) become members of a local church or at least show up and warm a pew every time the doors are open, and 3) submit to the leadership, and assume they are the final authority, and 4) that “saving souls” is the leaders’ job. Sadly, the majority of churchgoers are ignorant concerning what the Bible teaches about giving (why, how and to whom it should be given to), what the purpose of the local church is, and their own personal responsibility to be the salt and the light in this world.
Thus, what may have begun as a pure Christian fellowship, centered on the Person of Jesus Christ, can eventually morph into something far removed from biblical precepts and standards. This occurs when the church becomes man-centered instead of Christ-centered, and exults in “the church,” the pastor, the programs, and the people instead of in Jesus Christ. The result is such a church is no longer the salt and the light, which distinguishes it from the world. Man-centered churches are nothing more than social clubs with Jesus “tacked on” in order to give the appearance of being “Christian.” Therefore, the “show must go on,” week after week, to generate more money to keep the whole thing in business.
The tragedy is lost, hurting, wounded, hopeless, sin-sick, seeking souls whom Jesus died for “fall through the cracks,” while others suffer from spiritual anemia from steady diet of watered-down milk. This is obviously not the church that Jesus is building!
If we are to understand the church Jesus is building, we need to go back to the Bible instead of assuming that what we know today as “the church” is the one He is building. The foundation of Jesus’ church is Jesus Himself. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” Matthew 15b. This is the Rock that Jesus told Peter He would build His church upon. The revelation God gave to Peter concerning Jesus is that He is God Incarnate. Building upon any other foundation is faulty, dangerous, and in vain.
Jesus’ church is not confined to any particular location, denomination or building. His church is the body of Christ, and is made up of people around the world who are born again of His Spirit. “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” Romans 8:5-9. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ…ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:5, 9.
The church that Jesus is building understand and believe that: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” James 1:27. The church that Jesus is building also “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” Jude 3. They also live by the Apostle John’s words, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” 1 John 3:14-18.
The individuals that make up the church that Jesus is building show forth the fruit of the Spirit. They walk in obedience, know the voice of the Shepherd, and follow Him. They worship God in “spirit and in truth.” They also know that all power was given to Jesus in heaven and earth; therefore, they go forth teaching, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, making disciples to Jesus. The members of His body are fishers of men, and workers in His harvest field wherever they may be. Their motto is, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21.
A. W. Tozer sums it up well. “In our time we have all kinds of status symbols in the Christian church—membership, attendance, pastoral staff, missionary offerings. But there is only one status symbol that should make a Christian congregation genuinely glad. That is to know that our Lord is present, walking in our midst! . . .
“No matter the size of the assembly or its other attributes, our Lord wants it to be known by His presence in the midst. I would rather have His presence in the church than anything else in all the wide world.
“Hearing the proud manner in which some speak of the high dollar cost of their sanctuaries must lead people to suppose that spirituality can be purchased. But the secret of true spiritual worship is to discern and know the presence of the living Christ in our midst. . . .
“The Christian church dares not settle for anything less than the illumination of the Holy Spirit and the presence of our divine Prophet, Priest and King in our midst. Let us never be led into the mistake that so many are making—sighing and saying, ‘Oh, if we only had bigger, wiser men in our pulpits! Oh, if we only had more important men in places of Christian leadership!’
“In John’s vision, the sharp, double-edged sword proceeded out of the mouth of the Son of man. All other swords will fail and vanish, but the sharp sword, the Word of the Lord, will prevail. By all means, we had better stay with the sharp sword of His Word.” (The Tozer Topical Reader, Volume One, pg. 98)
Never forget, Jesus’ church is wherever He is. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” Matthew 18:20. I do not know about you, but I would rather be anywhere with Jesus than sitting in the most magnificent “church” building in the world without His presence. The church that Jesus is returning for is not a denomination or religious system, nor is it a building. The church He is returning for is the church He is building, “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” Ephesians 5:27.
Are you part of the church that He is building?