Be in the church, not just at the church
These two years of the pandemic has hastened the normalization and development of the virtual/online church. I believe the doctrine of the church needs to be taught, if not revisited. There is much to say and teach about the church. Going forward, we could possibly have a longer post about this topic and/or have an Equip class tackling this doctrine. As for the pastoral post this week, it will be related to only certain aspects of the doctrine of the church.
I would like to begin by asking you to consider some questions. What is the reason(s) you attend Church? Are you just being at a church or being in a church – is there a difference?
Let us firstly consider the apostle Paul’s teaching from his epistles to the various churches in the bible. When the apostle Paul taught about the one “anotherings” (e.g. serve one another (Gal. 5:13), be subject to one another (Eph. 5:21), love one another (Rom. 13:8) etc.), one could ask if he was talking to the universal church or the local church. I believe strongly he was teaching and speaking to the local (specific) church, although what he teaches is applicable to all churches. I believe too that Jesus Christ himself also points to the local church context when he tells his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). I would say the disciples themselves formed the very first local church.
However, a more critical thing for us to ponder is whether what Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul were telling us to do could be accomplished by just attending a (local) church? If someone asks you on Monday, “Where were you on Sunday morning?” Do you reply, “I was at church.” Or do you reply, “I was in church.” Both replies appear to be the same at first glance. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to differentiate between just being at church (i.e. going to church) and being in a Church.
The Epistles of Paul and that of the other apostles very much teach about being in a church and not just being at a church. To support such an understanding, I would like to use metaphors found in the bible. The bible uses a range of metaphors and images to describe what a church is like. There are several family images/metaphors like branches on a vine, an olive tree, a building, a new temple building with living stones, and a body of Christ. These are not exhaustive. As mentioned by Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology, each of the metaphors used for the church can actually help us appreciate more of the blessings as we are incorporated into the (local) church. I would like us to consider particularly the two metaphors used for the church – family and body of Christ. If the church is described as a family, then we should increase our love and fellowship with one another. The metaphor of the church as the body of Christ should also help us see the need to increase our interdependence on one another and our appreciation of the diversity of gifts within the body.
Yet the love, fellowship, interdependence and appreciation of others as well as using of spiritual gifts occurs when we are in the church and not just at the church. If one is just merely attending church, for example, by coming to the worship service each Sunday and just leaving after that, how does the person truly love, fellowship and experience the interdependence and appreciation for others as described about the church in the bible? I do not believe the person can. I also believe those in an online church will not be able to do so. God wants us to be in the church and not just at the church to grow and mature. The growth and maturing occurs particularly so when we are in the church receiving (i.e. ministered by others) as well as giving (i.e minister to others). We are blessed when served and ministered to by others in the church. But we are to also come to serve and not (just) be served which was the example given to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (John 13:1-17). May each one of us indeed have such a mindset as in Christ (Philippians 2:5-8). The receiving and especially the giving happens when we are very much in the life of the church which entails being part of the lives of others that make up the church.
So how can you be (more) in the church? For a start, consider how you can know others in the church more. Do not just stick to your own “clique”. Participate in the fellowship activities –like the men’s breakfast and the women’s ministry gatherings as well as even sticking around for the Sunday morning tea. I would strongly encourage joining a life group. After getting to know others and allowing others to know you, may you deliberate also how you could be ministering to others in the church. We have all been given varied spiritual gifts to be used for the building up of the church and we are one body (1 Cor 12). I have heard brothers and sisters in Christ stating that they are not “gifted” enough for ministry. I believe God, who is the giver of spiritual gifts, is not looking for a gifted person but rather a person with a servant heart. If you are unsure how to join a life group or what areas you could help out in the church, please approach any of the Pastors/Elders or Ministry Leaders. You could also simply indicate that through our church bulletin.
May we who are in the church try to spur one another on towards love and good deeds, and let us not give up meeting up with one another. (Hebrews 10:24-25). Let us be in the church. Do not just be at church.
By Elder Samuel Lim