Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.
— Martin Luther (1521)

In my junior year of college, after years of always attending the same kind of church, I developed a craving to experience the whole breadth of the Church. So, I bravely decided to go and visit churches of various stripes and colors. Like a connoisseur, I sampled church after church: Lutheran, Roman, Coptic, Methodist, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, even Anglican. This was very eye-opening for me, and I soon drew two crucial conclusions about the Church.

First, the Church, no matter where she may be found, is different. As I observed the Church in her variety, it became clear that Christ’s Kingdom is simply not of this world. Her message transcends human culture, her worship human tradition, her love human decency, and her community human society. Jesus prayed to his Father, “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, for they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one,” (John 17:14-15).  By sending the Spirit of holiness uniquely upon his Church, Christ set her apart from every other institution, community, and polity in this world. When all these pass away, his Church will remain intact forever.

But second, the Church, no matter how flawed she may be, is essential. As I neglected my own congregation to visit others, I felt my own spiritual health decline. My local church was far from perfect, but she was my local church, my communion of saints. In the midst of those broken, forgiven sinners, I actually met with Christ on Sunday and throughout the week, and when I drifted from them I drifted from him. As the Scriptures put it, speaking of the local church coming to worship, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near,” (Hebrews 10:24-25). The Church, imperfect, broken, and sinful, is the Body and Bride of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit. To share in the Spirit and to be united with Christ, you must be a living member of a local church.

Being in a church can be hard. Churches so often annoy, inconvenience, and even badly wound us. But, despite her flaws, the Church is where God has chosen to set his love on us and to make his dwelling place forever. It’s where we need to be. Don’t miss out on the amazing joy to be found in her midst!

This short article was published in the Resurrection Times: Wednesday Edition, August 4, 2010. Its purpose was to whet the whistle of its readers for the up-coming sermon on the Doctrine of the Church.

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