People’s visions of church differ. When I first moved to Austin I asked people what they thought about church and if Austin needed another one. Some said, “Only if it does good.” Others said, “No way; we’ve got enough bigots.”
A Massive Vision of Church
Christians are also divided on their visions of church: “more community, better music, less preaching, more social justice” Paul trifles with our visions of church when he says: “Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Co 3:16). God’s vision of the church is holy community, a distinct, interdependent people that stick out in the culture. This distinct flavor is the result of being holy, “set apart” to God, as opposed to being set apart to our own vision of church or set apart to our personal freedoms. God has a collective holiness at the center of his vision. The implications of this vision are huge.
Individuals Apart vs. Saints Together
Paul can’t conceive of a disembodied Christ, of stray Christians disconnected from one another. Which means loving Jesus but not the church severs the head from the body. Christians who complain about the church, gossip, judge, and quarrel are like cutters, who cause self-injury to the Body. So if your vision of church doesn’t include being holy together, which builds up the body, then it’s not God’s church you’re day dreaming about.
We all possess alternate, broken views of church. If you have church background, you can name off the things you don’t like about your church experience, probably more than the benefits. Why? It’s highly likely that you care more about your views on the church than embodying God’s view of the church—holy temple, where his Spirit dwells, where people live who are just as deserving of forgiveness and grace as you are because of Christ. Even if you’re part of a Christ-centered, missional church, you would be naive to think that your old, individualistic, default visions have dissipated.
Gut Check Your Church Vision
We often act like individuals apart instead of saints together when divide the church by:
- Attending church gatherings only when our preferred preacher is speaking
- Just “catching the podcast at home” (as if church is mere information)
- Refusing to pursue the holy joy of others in your community, especially different or difficult people
- Forming judgmental opinions on the style of music, personality of a leader, or philosophy of ministry.
When we dwell on minors instead of majoring on Christ crucified we act like “Individuals Apart” not saints together. We build a vision of church around ourselves, not Jesus. We miss out on Jesus’ grand, temple-vision of church and diminish its witness to the world.