The Christian and the Church
'…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.'
What does it mean to be a Christian? As a church this spring we surveyed the gospel of Luke, and it is clear that at the most basic level it is this: repent and believe. It seems clear to us from Luke but also from places like Romans 10.9-10 that this is the case. There is a danger, however, in defining things so simply. What ends up happening is that the terms within the definition never get defined. What is repentance? What is belief? If repentance is a turning away from sin, what is sin and what would it even look like to turn away from it? What does it actually mean to believe? We could spend quite a bit of time considering different unanswered questions, and we have as a congregation, and we will continue to do so. This is why I’ve planned to have a yearly preaching series at All Nations going through portions of a gospel, because many of these questions are answered in the life of Christ. The life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension stories are keystones for us in understanding what it means to be a Christian.
In the midst of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ however, we end up being anemic Christians in our response to the gospel. There are many factors that explain this anemic faith. In one respect, to become a Christian is to join a church, but teaching on the church is often lacking. Church can be me and a few of my friends who go hunting together and talk about spiritual things on the ride to the stand. Church can be my networks of connections with others who are sincere humans. Church is the building I go to or the democratic society that I participate in to make my voice heard among the hubbub. It is easy to miss or forget the fact that the church is a group of repentant believers (i.e. repentance and faith) who endeavor to meet in person on a regular basis to encounter the authoritative word of God and worship him in his splendor. It is no wonder that we as American Christians actually ignore the instruction from Hebrews. We neglect to meet together. This is the habit of many of us. It is to our detriment that we aren’t recharged by our regular gatherings.
Even if we understand the teaching on the church in the Bible, we still read the Bible with western eyes. That is, we read it individualistically. Thus it seems quite plausible to an American for there to be an individual Christian who never joins a church. Christianity has become almost exclusively an individualistic thing focused on private devotions and personal purity, but this is at the expense of the health of the church. Thus, I often hear people say that lots of people go to church to get something out of it. (This is one reason why ‘church shopping’ is a phrase.) We might phrase it more “Christianly” by using the wording “blessed by” the service. But we ought to go to this gathering called the church to meet someone. We ought to prepare to meet our God as we gather regularly, and this is no light matter. We are gathering to worship and rejoice; we are gathering to be encouraged by our brothers and sisters; we are gathering to be reminded of our brokenness and his majesty; we are gathering to disciple and be discipled and to make disciples of all nations; we are gathering to encourage each other to show love and to do good works. Although our Sunday meeting is primary, it ought to overflow into the weekdays. My desire is that our Sunday gathering is only the start of fulfilling these obligations that we have for one another. Someone said once that there are two groups. One group makes it a habit to practice these things- to encourage one another, etc. The other group has made it a habit not to encourage one another and practice these things. Not investing in the lives of the body of Christ is a bad habit, and we should consider whether or not we have made this our routine. Not protecting the appointed meeting time of the gathered church is a bad habit, and this reveals our priorities.
In bringing this back to our original question ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’, although the answer to the question can be answered simply as repentance and faith, we ultimately learn what this is through our involvement in community. And God’s appointed community is the gathered church. May we grow ever more into maturity as we seek to worship him, to encourage our brothers and sisters, and to spread the seed of the good news abroad.