Pictures of the Church
“Who is ready to go to church?” “You can’t wear that to church.” “Where are my church shoes!”
In the bustle of a Sunday morning at my house, phrases like these are commonplace. The word “church” is well used in our vocabulary.
Recently, one of those times when I used it, I stopped to think, “What does this word mean to me? What pictures are invoked when this word is used?”
Honestly, the first thing I pictured was rows of ornate wooden pews. Other things that came to mind included Christmas photos of nice families, or a lot of people singing, an animated preacher, or just microphones and speakers sitting on a vacant stage.
But I had an uneasy feeling. For some reason, it seemed like my pictures might be off. This put me on a quest to find accurate pictures of the church.
In these verses, God is describing how it will be for people in the new covenant, which is the church.
“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be a permanent covenant with them… My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Ezekiel 37:26-27 CSB
“And in the place where they were told: You are not my people, they will be called: Sons of the living God.”
Hosea 1:10 CSB
“He protects his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them in the fold of his garment. He gently leads those that are nursing.”
Isaiah 40:11 CSB
“No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them” — this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.”
Jeremiah 31:34 CSB
Is that enough? What do you see? To me, the picture is so far from my picture of the pews and preachers.
Each of these different biblical authors, communicate the same thing. God says “I will take them, and make them mine.” Picture a covenant initiator and people that just benefit from it. Picture a shepherd and a helpless flock. Picture a Father embracing children that are now His. Picture a pardoner and “the forgiven” who know Him intimately.
When we talk about missions or any type of ministry, our goal is to see the church established and strengthened. A misconstrued idea of what “God’s people” are will hinder the work we are involved in outside of our church, and also affect the way we “do church” in a bad way. Here are two short observations.
When we view the church wrongly, it affects how we pray. I have seen well-meaning people live a stressed-out life because they feel that it’s up to them and the elders to keep the church together. I’m one of those. I often catch myself praying “God help so-and-so do…” We simply do not find attitudes like that or prayers like this in the New Testament. When prayers are made for people, they are almost always to the effect “that Christ may dwell in your hearts.” (Eph 3:17) As we read the Old Testament promises we clearly saw that God would be the doer in the church.
What would our prayers sound like if we are truly convinced that everything that has happened and will happen is simply God’s doing? Viewing God and his purposes correctly is essential for true church-empowering faith.
Wrong pictures of the church form wrong expectations. Our views automatically affect what we think is “right” in the world around us. If we have a certain set of pictures of how things should be, we will work to duplicate those in our spheres of influence. This is human nature, but when it comes to the Church, we can’t afford to force our ideas into the framework.
What would you think about me going overseas and forcing believers to install ornate pews in their places of worship before I would call them a church? That might sound ridiculous, but I could go on and on with stories I’ve heard and seen of the exact same type of thing happening. (And I’m not that old.)
I’m simply inviting you to ask yourself what the pictures of the Church are in your mind. Where are they from? How does it affect your life? I’ve been asking myself often. I want to have my mind transformed to think more along the lines that God intended, especially when it comes to the church.
Jesus said “… I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18
That’s exciting. And if some of that construction needs to happen in our minds and perspectives, so be it.