There is a good bit of cultural confusion about the identity of the church. It is culturally assumed that the building on the corner with the cross on the steeple is the church. In truth, as is widely known among those who go there to worship and organize service– this is the place where the church meets. And yet the confusion persists in the culture and among the church itself. In the reforming church, the church itself, at least, clarifies this confusion and finds another way to identify the facility where it meets.
I often use the word church as though it were plural, as I do in this essay. The church are all those who follow Jesus Christ and believing in him seek to serve in the world as he served in the world.
While the facility where the church meets is geographically anchored. The church is a mobile force. While the facility where the church meets identifies itself institutionally, theologically, by denomination and governance, the church identifies itself with a common, indivisible witness to the teachings and works – the good news – of Jesus Christ. While commitment to the facility where the church meets is often exhausting, the church finds refreshment, energy and hope in commitment to the way of Jesus Christ. While the facility where the church meets requires maintenance, up-keep and governance, the church meets together encouraging one another in love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). While the facility where the church meets is often designed to glorify God with soaring architecture, the church glorifies God through its service. While the facility where the church meets calls followers of Jesus Christ to great financial commitment, the church witnesses to the free grace of God. While the institutional church calls followers of Jesus to give sacrificially, Jesus teaches that God does not require sacrifice. While the institutional church requires a portion of all that we have, Jesus calls the church to surrender everything to the poor and to follow him.
In the reforming church, there is no mistake about the identity of the church. The church (plural) are all who are called to follow Jesus, and following him seek to serve in the world those who are hungry and thirsting, naked and cold, aliens and strangers, sinners, the lost and broken, the widow and the orphan, the oppressed and imprisoned, the self-righteous and the self-condemned, the blind, and sick, and dying. This service rises up like a fragrant offering to God. This service is the worship God desires.
And ironically, those who are called to follow Jesus are confessing, self-recognized sinners. They are sinners who have experienced life-changing mercy and forgiveness and have become themselves a font of mercy and forgiveness.