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What Is the Church?
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What Is the Church?

“The church, endowed with the righteousness of Christ, is His depositary, in which the riches of His mercy, His grace, and His love, are to appear in full and final display” (Desire of Ages, p. 680).

Some view the church as the divinely appointed resister of evil, proclaiming God’s displeasure and imminent judgment to the world. They view the church as a fortress of right doing and living and believe they are at war with the world. Their goal is to sanitize culture, eradicate pluralism, subdue liberal ideology, and defeat every expression of darkness (which is basically every belief that runs counter to their version of evangelical, Judeo-Christian thinking).

However, God actually established the church for a different reason.

Speaking of His people, Jesus said, “Where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20, NLT). When God’s people gather to share His words, God inhabits their hearts and tabernacles (takes up residence) with them. 

“Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the THEATER of His GRACE, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts” (Acts of the Apostles, by Ellen White, p. 12).

Instead of asking the church to transform culture, God moves upon those who seek Him to transform their hearts.

It’s a Theater

God wants the church to be a theater where the world can witness the drama of His transforming power upon human hearts. This means we shouldn’t be upset when problems arise in the church. When people in the church, with their messy foibles and tragedies take center stage, the time is ripe for God’s grace to rescue the plot and change the trajectory of the story! Redemption is both messy and wonderful!

God’s Showroom

A couple of years ago, Linda and I decided we needed a newer car. The two we had were getting old and both had high miles. We weren’t looking to buy a new car because the depreciation is quite significant in the first couple of years of ownership. But sometimes it’s hard to find a used vehicle with low miles that’s in good condition.

So eventually we found ourselves standing in the showroom of our local Subaru dealer looking at the features on a brand new Subaru Forester. The bells and whistles were impressive, and the salesman answered all of our questions with ease. The promised discount was generous, and before we knew it, we were the proud owners of a new car. In fact, we bought the one in the showroom, which meant they had to move other cars around and jostle things a bit to get it out. It only had 35 miles on the odometer!

The church is God’s showroom where He invites potential “buyers” to come and browse. They’re not going to find perfect examples of what it means to follow Jesus, but if the members are committed to Christ and have a balanced view of their mission, those who are searching for a better life will at least be able to know they have found a place they can grow.

Unfortunately, some churches have become showcases of church doctrine, health reform, or ecclesiastical authority, which sends a confusing message. Doctrines are important because, when truly biblical, they acquaint us with God’s character. They are the bones—the foundational footings of faith in God. When people come to our churches and meet us for the first time, what do they see? Do our warm personalities and sparkling eyes show we care about them? Or, do they find a bunch of weary souls in sterile institutions who spend most of their time looking at their bones? 

A Hospital for Sinners

The church is also a hospital for sinners. Years ago, when I accidentally cut my arm with a chain saw, I knew exactly where to go! When I showed up in the Emergency Room holding a towel over my wound, no one chastised me for being careless. No one said, “Man, you need to take lessons on how to use a chainsaw.” As I walked through the door, I knew the pain would stop there. In my condition I was exactly where I needed to be. Everyone was focused on remedying the problem! Besides the staff, the only other people there were either sick, dead, or seeking help following an accident! No one had time to play games or argue with the patients.

The Cure

The message the church is to promote as God triages the world is one of love.

Jesus said the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets (all of scripture) is illustrated in the maxim that we are to treat others as we would like to be treated. It is a message of grace and compassion (Matthew 7:12).

God’s message to us through Christ is that He isn’t going to treat us as we deserve to be treated—which is at the heart of the gospel. Because we are so loved, our message to the world is, “We’re going to treat you better than you deserve.” The gospel calls us to graciously pass on to others what God has done for us!

Jesus took it a step further when He said,

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48, NLT).

Mercy, grace and love. The world will hear nothing we say if these three are not front and center!

Rich DuBose writes from Northern California.

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writes from Northern California

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