|Posted on March 28, 2019 at 11:40 AM|
In looking for the church Jesus promised to build, we must look beyond the institutions built and sustained by human effort. From his words recorded in the gospels it is clear that Jesus intended to build a “called-out assembly” of his disciples with a mission to make other disciples who identified themselves with him and did what he told them to do. Each called-out assembly, whether large or small in number, would enjoy his presence and power to express his will on earth.
While man-made religious institutions have been recognized as the “church” historically, they often fail to meet the criteria Jesus set in the beginning. Although the church Jesus is building may operate within the institutional church built by man, it is important to note the difference between the two. The institutional church is clearly defined by a visible and often rigid organizational structure, whereas the church Jesus is building is defined as a living spiritual body. The church Jesus has been and continues to build in this world is not functioning as an inanimate organization, but rather a living organism.
New Testament references to the church, especially those made by the apostle Paul, depict it as a living organism with Jesus as the head of the body and we as members of that body. In referring to the church as the “body of Christ” Paul means to convey the vital relationship between the members and Christ as well as the intimate relationships among the members. The use of this description of the church goes well beyond the organizational charts of the traditional institutions made by men. It emphasizes the fact that biblical Christianity is about relationships rather than ritual. So, the church Jesus is building today is likewise focused on relationships rather than religious ritual. The vertical relationship between Jesus and us sets the tone for the horizontal relationships between us and the other members of the body.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus left us with the new command to love others the way he loves us (John 13: 34-35). Because the church he is building is a called-out assembly of disciples who are commissioned to love others in exactly the same way he does, we have a sure way to identify that church by the love it displays. In connection with the new commandment Jesus promised that kind of love would prove to all men that we are his disciples. The relational nature of the church Jesus is building is clearly revealed both by the love its members have for its head, Jesus, as well as the love the members of the body have for one another.
The kind of love that reveals that we are the disciples of Jesus is the same kind of love he displayed while in this world. It is the divine love of God rather than the natural humanistic love demonstrated by religious people. It is unconditional rather than conditional, sacrificial rather than convenient, consistent rather than variable, initiating rather than passive, and intelligent rather than romantic. Divine love is the “critical event” that most clearly marks the church Jesus is building in this world today. Any assembly of called-out ones that practices that event would surely qualify as the “body of Christ” despite its location or organization. May the Father not only give us the eyes to see the real church, but also give us the grace to practice that “critical event” as well.