The Church for Mission vs. the Church for Consumption

The following is an excerpt from my sermon The Church: Myths and Misconceptions (Part 1) delivered at South City Church, 7.30.17.

The Biblical reason we join and are a part of a church isn’t because a particular church offers the “goods and services” we want and like — making the church into something like a business, and us into its customers or consumers. The church is a people, a community. And the reason we join and are a part of this church community is for the sake of advancing our collective Christian mission — together.

When we become consumers, church becomes about “what I get out of it.” And when that happens, what determines “how I chose to do church” (or, as we might say, where I choose to “go to church” — as if church is something you “go to”) is what suits my preferences, what I like, or what meets my perceived needs.

In such a model, the church becomes a place where I come to be served. The pastors and the staff are the ones who do the ministry (rather than everyone). “It’s their job. They’re the ministers,” we say. “My job is to receive and be served.”

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The Church as Committed, Communal Life

The church is not an institutional network of services and programs. The church is a people, a community of which to be a member, a family.

The help and support it offers is not like that of a drive-through: come and get your “fix” when you decide you need it. The sort of help and support it offers is one that is found through committed relationships and the regular, consistent, habitual, mundane (yet exciting), ordinary (yet supernatural) means of grace — God’s people prayerfully applying God’s word to one another.

We live in an instant gratification and give-it-to-me-now sort of culture. But we should know better here. Life’s not as simple as that. Our brokenness is more entrenched and complex than that.

The Sermon on the Mount as Formative of a Counter-Cultural Kingdom (Preston Sprinkle)

Jesus sought to establish a counter-cultural … kingdom whose citizens would embody a not-of-this-world reign over the earth. And on one Galilean afternoon, King Jesus sat down to tell His followers what this unconventional kingdom would look like [Matthew 5-7, the so-called Sermon on the Mount]. …

[T]he Sermon is intended to reconfigure God’s new community, to mold His people into a visibly different kingdom in the face of all other imposter kingdoms… —a public display of a different way (Matt. 5:13–14 [v.16]). The Sermon’s instructions are designed to be very different, communal, visible; they attract attention, cause bewilderment, and showcase the missional heart of the King. …

The Sermon … is the ‘definitive charter for the life of the new covenant community,’ and through it Jesus seeks to sculpt counter-cultural masterpieces—citizens of the great King—to embody a different society and disclose a different God. We should expect these instructions to jar our thinking, challenge our desires, and contradict normality—the way we usually do things around here. If you’re ‘of the world,’ the Sermon will seem outlandish and impractical. …

When we are wronged, we forgive; when we have money, we give; when we don’t have money, we give; when we give, we don’t flaunt it; when we fast, we smile; when we need food and clothing and the bank account is dry, we don’t worry like the rest of the world. Instead, we pray.

… Jesus calls His followers to a different way, a subversive kingdom. …

The Sermon on the Mount constitutes Jesus’s radical kingdom ethic. Heads will turn as we turn our cheeks. Our inexplicable behavior will call attention to our inexplicable God. Light will beam across our dark world as we love the spouses who don’t love us back, keep our word when it hurts, judge ourselves rather than others, and—most shockingly—love our enemies who are harming us. When we are cursed, we bless. When we are hated, we love. When we are robbed, we give. And when we are struck, we don’t strike back with violence. A person who chooses to love his or her enemies can have no enemies. That person is left only with neighbors.

~ Preston Sprinkle, Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence

Membership in the Universal Church: an Analogy

Some reflections…

Saying you’re a part of the Church (universal) without being a member of a specific local church is like saying you’re in the NFL without actually being on the roster of any of the NFL’s teams.

The NFL is made up of its 32 teams. The Church — the universal body of believers from across space and time — is manifested through the multitude of concrete, local churches.

Some may point to exceptions: “But what about…?” “But if you say this, doesn’t that mean…?” But there’s a reason these are exceptions — they are exceptional; they are not the norm.

The Bible both states and assumes that those who are identified with Christ by trusting in him are also those who are identified with him in baptism and identified with his community of believers — the church — through inclusion/membership among their ranks.

To abstain from regularly assembling with and committing oneself to a church community, placing oneself under its leadership and discipline, is to break away from the Biblical pattern of the Christian life — a life lived out in community, with mutual-accountability and encouragement.

To speak of “regular attenders” as some secondary class of pseudo-members is to blur these lines. We are better off to speak of such folks in truer terms, of what they are — perpetual visitors.