I’m reading a book by Robert E. Webber & Rodney Clapp called People of the Truth. I make it a practice to read everything that Bob Webber ever wrote, which means that I’ve kept a continual eye for any and all of his works. Just when I thought I had ’em all, along came this monograph in the $1 section at Baker Books in Grand Rapids. Right author. Right price. Don’t even need to pray about it.
Webber & Clapp make the argument for the ancient identity of the Church. They start by reminding us what the church isn’t and then move on to what the church is. Their work got me a’thinkin, especially as I’m working on a new sermon series for September.
What isn’t the church?
The church is not a political power or civic religion,
The church is not not a charity or Kiwanis club (no offense)
Why do we need to be reminded of this? Because the church has become this in different corners of the US. The gravitational pull toward the church becoming any of the above is stronger than we sometimes realize. While all of these have good aspects to them, we dare not miss our core identity. Now — lets’ talk about what the church is.
The church is a community of believers centered on Christ.
Jesus, right smack dab at the center. He is humble glory. He is powerful meekness. He is truth and love. He is Jesus, and He has come to save. Jesus builds His church, and it’s built on and around Him and nothing else.
Political power He is not. Jesus resisted any and every political station. They wanted to make Him king and He said no. In fact, Jesus ran from it. Today, we acknowledge that government has a place under the Lordship of Christ (not in it, not through it, not Jesus ruling through government). We participate in the political scene, influencing as we can for the good of the earth and the effect of the Kingdom of God, but not trusting government to save us.
Civic religion He is not. Jesus did not come to keep our bad behavior to an acceptable minimum. A murderer needs Jesus, but so does a cook who struggles with a gambling addiction. A prostitute needs Jesus, but so does an architect who struggles with anger issues. Jesus didn’t come to keep the lid on bad. If anything, Jesus came to take the lid off of bad and do something about it. Much more than crowd control or moral fabric, Jesus died and came back to life so that we might be dead to sin and alive in Him. That’s waaaaay different from good behavior.
Charity He is not. Jesus did very kind and generous things — food to the hungry, healing the sick, etc. But that’s not the reason He came. He came to die, to live, to teach, to proclaim. The needs then were as real as the needs now. The church does charitable things because Jesus loves the world and we are His servants. As the Kingdom of God spreads through tangible helps, the Gospel should be spread, too, since redemption is our greatest need.
A Kiwanis Club leader He is not. No offense to our Kiwanis pals. In fact, the Kiwanis club and the Church do remarkably similar acts in that we volunteer to serve our community for the greater good. The difference is in how we view the problem and the corresponding solution. Why is the world broken? Because of the effect of sin. Why do we do someting to make it better? Because God is redeeming our world through Jesus, and we are His servants. That doesn’t mean that we paint a stencil of John 3:16 onto the playground equipment — that’s a bit too obvious and even a little irritating. We build a playground because seeing kids play on rusty swings bothers God even more than it bothers us. We do it because Jesus has made all the difference in our lives. And we believe that Jesus will make all the difference in yours.
We are the People of the Truth.