I find it fascinating that when the ascended Jesus gave the apostle John ‘The Revelation’, John then communicated this vision to the seven churches. Jesus didn’t tell John to communicate his message to individual giants in ministry like Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. Jesus didn’t focus these messages to one person at a time. These messages were given to the churches – groups of believers bonded together to share the love and message of Jesus Christ. The people of the church were to live life together in such a way that the world would sit up and take notice.
True, most of the churches had problems. Jesus had some very specific and stern directives toward believers who were getting off track. Consider these strong words to the church at Laodicea from the Message (Revelation 3:15-16): “I know you inside and out and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot – far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit.”
Whoa! Strong words…changes needed to be made! But Jesus also gave great affirmation and love to the church. Throughout history, the church has been chosen to communicate God’s message of love and reconciliation through Jesus Christ.
In our very individualistic society there are a lot of people – self proclaimed Christians – who prefer to try to live the Christian life away from the church. Our culture has decided to be cynical of “institutionalized religion”. Yet the hunger for the spiritual dimension in people’s lives remain. I recently ran across a blog where people, disillusioned by something about the church, tried to justify how they could supposedly live in community with believers and grow spiritually away from the church. However, one would be hard pressed to make a good case for that view point from Scripture. From the book of Hebrews: “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging each other; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25.
The churches from Revelation had some problems. Churches throughout history struggle with problems because each church is made up of imperfect human beings. But the church is still God’s chosen instrument, and what God has chosen, I surely wouldn’t want to discard.
Wheaton professor, Dr. Gilbert Bilzekian explained the early church to a group of young students, which included Bill Hybels, who became the Senior Pastor of the Willow Creek megachurch in Chicago.
“Students,” he said, “there was once a community of believers who were so totally devoted to God that their life together was charged with the Spirit’s power. In that band of Christ- followers, believers loved each other with a radical kind of love. They took off their masks and shared their lives with one another. They laughed and cried and prayed and sang and served together in authentic Christian fellowship. Those that had more shared freely with those who had less until socioeconomic barriers melted away. People related together in ways that bridged gender and racial chasms, and celebrated cultural differences. Acts 2 tells us that this community of believers, this church, offered unbelievers a vision of life that was so beautiful it took their breath away. It was so bold, so creative, so dynamic that they couldn’t resist it. Verse 47 tells us that ‘the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The early church wasn’t perfect (check out Acts 5 and the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira) but it was very beautiful.
There are great reasons to stand up for the church in a culture that wants to dismiss it’s influence. We use the term “family” for the way we relate to each other in church because a church family really mirrors what happens in a traditional family. The closer we get the more there is opportunity for bumps and bruises. There are misunderstandings to work through and relationships can be tough. But there is nothing like a family working and loving each other in harmony. It can’t be replaced and the church can’t be replaced. The church is close to the heart of God, and when lived out by His design truly is very beautiful.
Our culture changes, our circumstances change, our seasons of life change, but none of these things preclude us from experiencing what Christ offers the world through the church – “a vision of life so beautiful that it took their breath away…so bold, so creative, so dynamic that they couldn’t resist.”