Last fall, I asked our church to join me in a 40 day fast and one of the questions I was asking during this time was “What is the church supposed to look like?”
As time went along, it seemed the Lord brought a lot of “interesting” reading materials my way which would be very controversial to most in the church world. I think we would all admit that the church does not look like the early church immediately following the resurrection of Jesus. Everyone has an opinion of how church should look and these opinions range from a completely organic church where there is no single leader to a very organized church where the pastor is the strong ruling head. But this only gives us a picture of how the church operates and not really who the church is.
Church history reveals the radical change that came to the church in the early 4th century as Roman Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the state religion and Christians were no longer persecuted for their faith. Constantine moved the
church into elegant and stately buildings designed much like the buildings we see today with the elevated stage for the dignitaries and seating below for the people. He established “clergy” vs “laity” and gave special privileges to those who were appointed as clergy. From this era came the concept of the “holy “building and the “holy man” and the body of believers shifted into the “spectator” mode since only clergy were capable of interpreting the Bible and performing “religious” services. Christianity became very popular and people joined the church for the benefits rather than through faith in Christ. The church became more about the building than it did the people of the building. Pagan shrines filled the church buildings and being born again was no longer a pre-requisite to become a part of the church. So, the church became more of a social or political influence than being the presence of Christ in the earth. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Fast forwarding to today, we see the church has moved through the ages with Reformations and Revivals trying to capture the heart and Presence of God. So, did I get my answer during the 40 days of prayer and fasting? Yes. I heard very clearly from the Lord what His church is supposed to look like. He said “it’s supposed to look like me.” What a novel thought that the church of Christ should bear His resemblance. It’s not what we do, but who we are that is important. Then who we are will determine what we do. We get the cart before the horse and try to create who we are out of our doing or works. Doing church does not necessarily mean we are the church as has been evidenced for centuries. So what is the church supposed to be?
The church is to be an influence in this world that will bring glory to God and change into the lives of those it touches. The church is not an end in itself, but a means to an end and that end is to bring glory to God in the earth. 1 Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” We bring glory to God the same way Jesus brought glory to God and that is by doing the will of God in the earth (John 17:4). We are first before we do.
How do we look like Jesus? We become like Him as we sit at His feet and allow Holy Spirit to change us from glory to glory, ever becoming more and more like His Person (2 Cor. 3:18). We become like Him as we allow Holy Spirit to address the areas of our unlikeness and bring those areas into conformity to Him. I love Dr. Robert Mulholland’s description of spiritual formation as “the process of being transformed into the image of Christ for the sake of others.” Becoming like Him is a lifelong process of transformation and can only be completed as we are in community with each other.
The church is not a movement, but a living organism in the earth and the church is to re-present God to the world. The church is to embody the Presence and Person of Christ and to do the same works Jesus did (John 14:12), that is to bring glory to God and light into a dark world. We spend so much time doing church that we fail to be the church. Cities and nations need to see the church arise as one body and one voice under the headship of Jesus Christ and become a people who will allow the Spirit of God to work through them. This unity will be what sustains future revivals and reformations and we will begin to turn cities upside down for Him (Acts 17:6).
So who and what is the church? The church is the representation of Christ in the earth and we are to be doing the same works He did. Jesus said in Matthew 5 that we are the salt and light of this world. We are empowered by the same Holy Spirit Jesus was empowered with and it is Holy Spirit that enables us to be who we need to be so we can do what we need to do (Acts 1:8). It is such a joy to be a part of the family of God in this day we are in. There is much work to be done as we progress into the image of our Lord and Savior. Will we stumble? Of course, but that is why Holy Spirit is so important. He will lift us up and brush us off and continue the work in us that He began until the day we see Jesus face to face (Phil. 1:6). We serve a merciful and gracious God!