When do you have the church?
Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians
By James Emery White
What is an authentic church community? I remember sitting in the boardroom of a prominent Christian business leader. They did a lot of “Christiany” things in this business. He told of the mission trips he had taken with his employees, the investments the company had made from its profits in select boutique ministry ventures, and the Bible study offered on campus for employees. I think I even remember the mention of a corporate chaplain. Then, at the end, he said he wasn’t personally involved in a local church because, after all, “We’re the church too. This company is the church.”
Inside I thought I was going to explode. Everything within me wanted to shout, “No, you are not! A company is not the body of Christ instituted as the hope of the world by Jesus himself, chronicled breathtakingly by Luke through the book of Acts, and shaped in thinking and practice by the apostle Paul through letter after letter now captured in the New Testament. A marketplace venture that offers itself on the New York Stock Exchange is not the entity that is so expansive with energy not even the gates of hell can withstand its onslaught. An assembly of employees in cubicles working for end-of-year stock options and bonuses is not the gathering of saints bristling with the power of spiritual gifts as they mobilize to provide justice for the oppressed, service to the widow and the orphan, and compassion for the poor.”
So when do you have the church?
You have the church when you have the message of Christ being proclaimed. You have the church when you have true community being fleshed out—a community of Christ followers across generations and ethnicities, male and female, young and old. You have the church when there is the practice of the “one anothers”—loving, serving, bearing. You have the church when there is worship and service and spiritual growth, all coming together for the singular mission of seeing those far from God brought near to him. You have the church when the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper (or communion) and baptism are being stewarded—times when something sacred is imparted to you. You have the church when there is the biblical structure of pastors providing leadership and oversight. And you have the church when you have the body of Christ operating as it was meant to, with all of the gifts coming together—leaders leading, administrators administrating, artists being artistic, and so on—and all of them coming together as one body.
When you have that, it’s the most breathtakingly beautiful and powerful force on the planet.
Let me give you some pictures of this.
At a recent baptism service, a woman tweeted out a picture of her son being baptized. But it was what she tweeted along with it that stuck with me. She wrote how 10 years ago I baptized her and her husband and now we baptized their son. To that she added the hashtags #liveschanged #familieschanged.
Another picture of this.
For Christians the heart of our mission is to the least and the lost. The least meaning those who are poor, hungry, in need of shelter, oppressed and abused. And the lost meaning those who are in need of God, in need of the saving message of Jesus, and in need of knowing how much he loves them and wants to wrap his arms around them. When it comes to the least and the lost, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the world more abused, more in need of protection and rescue, more in need of hearing that God loves them more than they can imagine, than the children caught up in the sex trafficking industry throughout the world.
Some are runaways, some are kidnapped, some are sold into it by their fathers. But they are just children—eight or nine, maybe 10 or 12 years old. They are taken, beaten, raped and then plied with drugs or alcohol until they become addicts. That way, they can be controlled and forced to service up to 20 customers a day.
One of the worst places in the world for this is the Philippines. Our church found out that organizations such as the International Justice Mission knew where these girls were, knew the dungeons below the brothels where they were kept, but couldn’t rescue them until there was a place where they could go. They have no homes, and many can’t return to their families because it was their fathers who sold them. They have addictions, psychological damage, need to be protected from their pimps while charges are brought, and need to be educated through all this. If you rescue and then just release, you are signing their death warrant. So, as horrific as it sounds, the girls are left in the brothels until there is not only a place to rescue them from, but to rescue them to. When we heard that, we said, “You just need a house? You’re just talking bricks and mortar? We’ll do that.” So we built that house. We helped staff it. And once we did, they started rescuing children.
When the church is being the church, it really is the hope of the world. And not even the gates of hell can stand up under its onslaught.
Excerpted from Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians by James Emery White. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2019. Used by permission. BakerPublishingGroup.com