Dismantle Church — Part 2
A friend of mine who moved to Bangalore has been attending a large church for some time. It is connected to the denomination he was familiar with from his hometown. But what troubled me was that he rode around 40 km one way to reach the church. He has been doing this for some years.
So I asked him why you have to travel that far when there are churches around your place. He said “I like the service there; the music and the sermons are motivational.”
So I asked, what else do you do there? He said, “nothing much; I may catch up with a few friends. Then, while returning home, I have lunch and reach home by late afternoon.” He hoped that his travel might be more accessible if he bought a car.
I am amazed by his commitment. I am not criticising him. But, do you see a problem?
When I moved to Bangalore, I was also looking for a church. So I did church shopping for a few weeks. What was in my mind? I had my preferences — timings, music, ambience, Sunday school for my kids, sound theology, etc. A friend helped me identify a few according to my preferences.
Do you see a problem? It is all about the Sunday event. What is your church like from Monday to Saturday? Absolutely nothing. In fact, we don’t want church between Monday to Saturday. Therefore we created Sunday Show business.
But one may say, “We are the church wherever we are.” That is not entirely true. My affiliations to an institutionalised church of my preferences or an idea of a private faith are not what Christ invites us to.
If we seek to dismantle the Church to rebuild on Christ, I would like to invite you to rethink the biblical idea of redemption.
We can observe in the Bible that our heavenly Father loves us, his lost children; therefore, he sent his firstborn to redeem us. This is an idea familiar to the ancient patriarchal culture. (A study) A patriarch has the responsibility to protect and take care of his household. His firstborn inherits the double portion because he shares responsibility for the household with the patriarch.
When a family member/property was held away from the household due to imprisonment or slavery, the firstborn redeems the member by paying the price to bring them back.
By redeeming the lost member, the redeemer brings the person back into his household as a son or daughter of the family. The redeemed becomes heir to the household’s inheritance. For example, the prodigal son thought he would return as a servant because he did not believe his brother or father would redeem him. But we know that the Father runs out to receive him and makes him his son again.
By redeeming the lost member, the redeemer brings the person back into his household as a son or daughter of the family.
God said to Israel, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine….”
Similarly, God sent Jesus, his firstborn, to redeem all creation. Through his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus wants to take us back to the Father’s house to become his sons and daughters again to be with the Father forever. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. (John 14:2, John 3:16, Luke 4:18–19)
When Boaz redeemed Naomi and Ruth, he took them into his household and in doing so, he gets to marry Ruth to perpetuate the name of the dead. She is no more a servant; she found a new identity in Boaz. It is because Ruth chose to say to Naomi, “For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Our New Identity
By our faith in Christ and obedience to the will of God, we are born of the Spirit into God’s household. (Romans 8:15–16, Romans 8:28–30, John 3:3) Our new identity in Christ is that we are God’s possession, a child of God called by His name, a member of the His household, fellow citizens with the saints, and hires to his inheritance. This is the fellowship (Koinonia) we have in Christ.
We no longer live by our old identity but pursue to be conformed to the image of Christ. Our fellow disciples become my brothers and sisters, and we constitute one large family of God. We ought to love the Father and fellow believers as Christ loved us. (Mark 3:35, Ephesians 2:11–21, Romans 8:29)
Why do we need to conform to the image of Christ? It is because, in the beginning, when God made Adam and Eve, he made them in his image and likeness and gave them the authority to reign with him. But they rejected Him; therefore, God sent them out from his dwelling place or his household. But later, He sent his Son, the last Adam, to redeem his children back to his family and restore his image in them again.
Today we live in an individualistic culture, where we are more concerned about our own individual identity. Therefore, we may not relate to what it means to bear our father’s name or belong to his household except for a few official purposes. By that I mean, it doesn’t inform us on how and where we live. Therefore, we wonder why the Bible uses the terms like redemption, heavenly Father, household of God, etc. So it is critical to understand it from the biblical context.
We cannot understand redemption if we view it from our individualistic mindset. But, unfortunately, the Church has fallen to a distorted individualistic gospel that says my faith in Jesus is about going to heaven after I die. Therefore my only obligation is to avoid sin, preach the same individualistic gospel, and be regular to church, besides pursuing my dreams.
Therefore, we misunderstood redemption and our life in Christ as members of the Father’s household and God’s command to conform to the image of His Son. Or, as Apostle Peter says, “become partakers of the divine nature.”
As a disciple, everything centres on my new identity in Christ. Therefore I relate all of life from this identity. Apostle Paul says, “Your old self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God.” The act of baptism amid the gathered new family symbolises this well. We put to death our old identity for the new.
I like to visualise this from Abraham’s life. When Isaac was born, Abraham thought that Isaac was his son, which is true. But after the mount Moriah incident, Abraham no longer considers so. In my opinion, when he tried to offer Isaac, he sacrificed himself first. I think on mount Moriah it is Abraham who got a new life. Now, he sees Isaac as his son only through God who gave him a new life. Do you get what I mean? We need to offer up our old identity for the new.
When I turn to Christ, I have no identity except Christ.
This is the hardest part. When I turn to Christ, I have no identity except Christ. It is not about me; it is about Christ and his household. With my new identity in Christ, God gives me status as his son or daughter; he gives me a family, new hope and purpose.
Now my body, family, relationships, possessions, and intellect belongs to Christ, who redeemed me. (1 Corinthians 6:20) As a child of God, my fellow disciples within my biological family and outside become one family of God. It is not merely that Jesus forgave my sins, and I am on my way to heaven. The family of God is already my new reality.
Our New Reality
Household is not merely a nice metaphor for making us feel good about ourselves; it is the reality we come to in Christ. Therefore he commands us to love God and our fellow brothers and sisters (neighbours) as ourselves.
To submit to one another, bear each other’s burden, wash one another’s feet, show hospitality, pray together, confess your sins, disciple one another, etc. Then we become a Christ-centred, closely-knit, and loving, relational community rather than a place-of-worship centred or pastor/denomination centred audience or subscribers. Can you see the difference?
The former group lives life in common, with Christ as its centre. In other words, as one body with Christ as its head. They disciple one another by keeping the way of the Lord in the presence of their brothers and sisters every day, not just by catching up on Sundays. By serving one another in patience, humility and joy, sharing resources, visiting them in hospitals or prisons, and even helping those outside the household in love. That is what the early church believed and practised. (Acts 4:32–37) Hospitality was regarded as a spiritual discipline in the early church.
Jesus said, By this, the world will know we are my disciples. (John 13:35) On the judgement day God is going to say, “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40, Galatians 6:10, 5:13, 1 Timothy 5:10, Romans 12:13)
Household is not merely a nice metaphor for making us feel good about ourselves; it is the reality we come to in Christ.
They may have also done business or agriculture together, raised children together, often shared meals, laughed, and even wept, as they shared everything in common. By the way, it doesn’t work when we live miles apart and say hello on Sunday morning. Proximity is required even if we are connected digitally. This is a struggle in our modern lifestyles, we need to seek God to help us overcome.
The latter group is individualistic who are more concerned about their identity, affiliation or membership to a denomination or personality and its benefits than serving the fellow believer. As a result, they isolate themselves or keep their distance from other believers and connect only when required, often excusing that they were busy or alleging that all people were corrupt. They have a conception of spirituality that is only private and exclusive with God.
So now consider, do our local churches, denominations, organisations, mega-churches enable us to see fellow believers as one household of God to serve one another in all aspects of life? Do you understand that before we are a church (ekklesia/congregation), we are a family of God? If not, the church is merely a Sunday Show Business run by events and programs. We most likely treat members as our audience, fans, subjects, club members, or sometimes even as enemies.
That is the reason in my previous chapter I asked the question. What does your church look like between Monday to Saturday?
Do you understand that before we are a church (ekklesia/congregation), we are a family of God?
How can we return to our Father’s household?
You may ask, how can we be a family when we are not perfect? Yes, we are weak, sinful and even abusive. However, it is not our perfection that makes us God’s household; it is God who adopted us into. He commands us to pursue godliness and become partakers of his divine nature. (1 Peter 1:4) That is to be rooted in love. Love to the point of laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:11–24)
Let us stop looking for Sundays and become a family by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ around us. Use your spiritual gifts for the edification of the body of Christ. Open homes, meet as often as you can to sing, pray or study the scripture, share meals, work together, help in household chores, school children, join the civic affairs of your city, and on Sundays, meet again.
But, when we reject our Father’s house, we cling on to our man made identities and therefore reject our identity in Christ, or worship, calling, and eventually, our hope. So what then is our Sunday Show Business for?
In the following part we will see about our purpose in Christ.