The Christian Church What Makes a Church a Christian Church?
When are you a Christian? When you accept Jesus and follow him, in everything.
That would then also hold for the church. She is a Christian church when she accepts Jesus Christ as her Head, and him alone, to expect everything from him, and to be led by him in all things.
All readers will agree with this, I presume. This is what we want to be with all our heart, and this is what binds us firmly together.
But why then is there tension in our churches? Why are there so many concerns here and there? Are we overlooking something then, something that is essential for the Christian church?
This could be.
To be a Christian is namely not just accepting Christ. It is not just a matter of making a principled decision. Also, not just a matter of effort and activity.
One With Christ
We confess that you become a Christian by sharing in his anointing (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 12). Christ means “Anointed One”, and a Christians also has this in themselves. By his Spirit we thus become one with him.
Anointed for what?
Look to the Christ, he was made a servant.
He is great, sure, he is the eternal God. But he accepted the task to be a Redeemer, and in that task, he became a servant. This is how Isaiah announced him; as the servant of God. The servant without prestige, who would be despised and ignored, and yet he would fulfill his task.
Paul also writes about the humility of Christ: he left everything behind, became a (hu)man, was killed, even on a cross. Lower than this is not possible.
“Christ” represents faithfulness, willing to do everything, out of love for the people and all of creation.
We confess that he is our prophet, and our high priest and our king. That phrase we know all too well. But you can also formulate it differently. Namely that Jesus says: I am your priest in heaven with God, I pray day and night for you. And I am your prophet, who speaks to you and continues to do so, for you need it. And I am your king, to rule over you and protect you, for you are in danger all the time.
He Wants us to Live Through Him, that His Life Becomes Our Life…
If you listen to it like this, then you become impressed with the continuing willingness of this servant to serve you with all his strength and possibilities. That is how he is! This is the “Christ” personified! First through humiliation on earth, now in glory from heaven. A Christian is (s)he, who wants to be one with him in this.
Those who want to receive the same disposition, through the Holy Spirit.
We read that we are to “eat and drink” the Redeemer. He wants us to live through him. That his life becomes our life, his disposition our disposition, his willingness our willingness.
Whoever receives his Spirit, becomes willing in many things.
Whoever receives more of the Spirit, becomes willing to do even more.
That is how a Christian is.
And so is the Christian church.
Being Servant Together
This goes further than completely wanting to commit yourself to him. Perhaps that sounds strange, but I will try to explain it.
I have encountered people who conscientiously completely gave themselves in his service.
They were willing to do everything for the Lord. And yet, not quite, and they did not even realize this themselves. For in some way, they had drawn a line, where they sounded a clear “no”. Where was the line drawn? By the things that suited them, the things they found fitting (with themselves). Everything that fell outside of this, they were not ready to support. They were not willing to help with. The Lord did not ask this of them, this is what they were reacting to, they did not even think about it.
Something like this can also apply to people who want to be very principled as Christians. Those people I fortunately speak to on a regular basis. And yet, with all their principles they can be especially willing to help with their own choices, for what they deem important. And in the things they consider less important, we notice they are also less principled.
Humanly speaking, this can be understood.
But for a Christian, these are blind spots.
For a servant is not selective. He is a servant; he needs to watch his Lord, what he expects of him.
A Christian cannot select the calling which comes from God. He cannot take on the one half of his being Christian and just ignore the other half, even when he invests all his energy in that one half.
I think this is an important point. Many a person will give his whole life to God, while yet not being willing to do everything which God asks of him. This brings tension in life. And also in the church.
The Blind Spot
Today I want to draw your attention to that part of our being a Christian that we so easily ignore; our blind spots in life.
They are, for example, the people which God places on our path, whom we would rather not meet. Because they are so different (from us), or because they want different things.
There are situations in which He brings us, that we rather not spend any time on. Because we find them difficult, or confrontational…
There are questions that we would rather not hear. Because we find them tricky and critical, because they disturb our peace that we thought we could enjoy.
You can easily shield yourself from all these; are you not involved in many other things?
You spend enough energy there. But wrongly you are being selective, and you close yourself off from essential questions and developments and your possible part in them.
I have noticed for example, that there are some rather large differences in how we experience our worship services. That in itself is not so bad. Often it is not about essential matters which people may experience in different ways. It is more serious however, that across the broad lines (back and forth) willingness is lacking to learn to understand the other person.
While people judge, totally from their own experience and viewpoint. While that happens, many folks draw their own random line, and everything outside of that stays a blind spot.
Who Said That?
Recently we had some different music in church, and we heard a low-threshold sermon with an eye to some visitors from outside the church. Right away someone remarked afterwards: “this was not a worship service”.
Just like that, from his own feelings, without any argumentation or even trying to explain himself. And who said that? A person who had been in church council for years, who would do everything for God and who would give his last dollar to the Lord. Someone with a heart filled with willingness. And at the same time with his own refusals.
For God, at that moment, asked for another “sacrifice”, and he was not willing to give it. Which sacrifice? Accepting his brothers and sisters who sing differently than he does. And an adjustment to people whom God placed on his path. Should he have accepted all of this?
Yes, for it came from the Holy Spirit. But he did not see this, he was unable to see it, for it was in his blind spot.
Learning To Accept
This is not just an example. For at this level there is a lot happening, or rather: a lot is not happening. This can affect a complete congregation, which can then close itself off and so get its members into trouble. This can also be the reason that different churches, belonging to the same federation, are growing apart.
Say you have a congregation where everything rolls along very nicely. With traditional worship services, as they are called. The minister speaks a lot, he is the only one who talks. He is also the only person who has prepared (for) the worship service, together with the organist and the church secretary who has received the liturgy notes on Friday evening. Let us call this type A for now.
Then you also have a congregation where the worship service is being planned together. The minister looks after the preaching but has had contact with others about this. That is clear from the input from others. A music group has been practising a few songs. The young children have made a drawing about todays’ sermon topic, and they come and show it after the sermon. Because of this everything is a little less predictable here. We call this type B for now.
Now my point here is not to express a preference for A or B.
But I do want to note how these differences, which are very much on the surface, have become highly determinative for the way that Christian people and churches look at each other.
Members from congregation A cannot imagine they would be members in congregation B. And vice versa. That “other” they rather keep far away from themselves. And so, the differences remain and become increasingly more dominant over time. Also, more irritable. And do not think that the dividing line runs only between congregations, it also runs right through the congregations. People come to the worship service, but at times are ready to walk away if it does not suit them. Or they just stay away altogether.
How is that for willingness?
How is that anointed to be a Christian?
Must we then just accept everything? Yes, if it is from the Spirit, then yes. For he builds the church. He brings you together, also with those living stones which are so different. You cannot order your brothers and sisters to your own cut and taste, can you? You receive them exactly as the Spirit gives them to you. All of them anointed to be one with Christ. Together in serving God and all people. We sing together before the Lord, with all instruments, but only an organ is fine as well.
Must We then just Accept Everything?
The point is: is this from God, to his honour, according to his will?
The measuring stick with which we can answer this question, no one has in himself, and certainly not in his own feelings. We measure with the eternal Word, and to do that correctly we will first have to bend to it. Bend for it as a servant, as a Christian. Not my will Lord, but let Your will be done. This is how it goes in a true Christian church.
As a minister, you can get nicely caught in the middle of it. Also as congregation member. One part of the congregation does not want all this “nonsense” and shakes their head with more and greater concern, the other part of the congregation wonders why we have so many rules for ourselves and would like some breathing room when utilizing these rules.
How in the world can you please everyone? You can try endlessly to sail between the rocks, but that will end at some point. You just cannot be diplomatic enough. And especially, this is not how you keep a congregation together.
How does a congregation become a cohesive unity? Through the Spirit and the Word of God.
Not by the cleverness of a pastor who keeps trying to sail between the wants of everyone.
It is also not my calling to try to please everyone. Since when is it important in the Christian church for everyone to be pleased with all that is happening? Following Christ is always a renunciation of yourself. The disposition of Christ always means that you treat the other as more important than (you treat) yourself. Or at least as important as you are. I want to tell everybody this! When you see the other person in church or at work, something flashes through you: “would it not be great if you also were saved”. If this is your wish, then you do not obstruct that person in any way to find Christ; on the contrary, you are willing to assist with anything. That is why you are a Christian. Can we ask that from each other in the church of Jesus Christ?
The remarkable thing is that most church members can be approached like this. I discover that time and again to my surprise and delight. I can speak in this way with older and younger members and experience the unity. But of course, it cannot be so that I would be the connecting link between the one person and the other. That is not my place, and no one can expect that from me either. The connecting link between the one and the other person is Jesus Christ, and him alone. And so, we receive him, his life, his Spirit, his thoughts, his disposition, his willingness in everything.
And so we must pay attention to each other within the congregation. Away with those blind spots! Away with that own selection within God’s calling. The Spirit brings people on your path, to be or to become a brother or sister. He wants you to understand each other, that you invest in this, and that you accept each other wholeheartedly.
And that you want to discover what the Lord gives you in the other members. When that happens, and fortunately we have examples of this, then right away there is so much recognition. Recognition and unity that go much deeper than superficial diversity. God’s care for you becomes visible in a brother or sister. He can also help you further through them, to show you what you at first glance did not see, so that you grow in unity and willingness.
What is From the Spirit, is Not Strange
Even when it is about superficial differences, they are therefore still important. For they bring to light who we are in our heart. In this connection, what comes to my mind all the time is what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:12. He writes “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” Whoever receives the Spirit gets to see what God gives us in Christ. Then you can mention many things, from surprising grace to, and including, eternal life. But do not forget in a blind spot the multi-colouredness (manifoldness) of the congregations. That you also receive! And what the Spirit gives you in many colours, we should not make all grey, or all green or blue, subject to our own demands.
In this connection, Paul says: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). This is something to think about. When you cannot discern what the things of the Spirit are, just because you do not like the form, what does that say about you?
And when you find it strange what someone else says or sings through the Spirit, do you not place yourself on the outside?
Without Sacrifice It Is Impossible
People regularly ask me if I want to mention specific sins. I think I am doing that. Only, my list is longer than alcohol, sex, and money.
What I want to name at this point, is that a Christian can only be a Christian when he is truly willing to give his whole life to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12, Lord’s Day 12). In this, no one needs to be perfect yet, you may grow in this. But then in such a way that you are not being selective. We may not hold back in our sacrificing. So that, against our better judgment, we hold on to our blind spots, to focus especially on the principles which suit us.
A Sacrifice, That is What You Give Away
A sacrifice, that is what you give away. You devote your life to God, without setting borders for yourself. To so give yourself to the congregation, which God gives to you. To truly be there for the people around you, whom God brings on your path. This is the life of a Christian. This is how the church is a Christian church.
It is about your sacrifice.
It is about the sacrifice of your life, this is your true worship (Rom. 12:1).
The sacrifice, of which no one becomes poor.
For, whoever knows to give his life, that person will receive it.