The Indispensable Nature of the Church

My view of the church has changed dramatically.

As teenager, I considered church to be predominately a place to see my friends. My social life was primarily connected to the church. I had minimal theological interest in the church and little desire to form one.

Since my social network in college was now on campus, I tended to see the church as negotiable to my faith and sometimes unnecessary to my faith. Church was a place to attend worship but not a place to be in community with others. I discovered, however, that as I surrendered more of my life to Christ, I also became more interested in the church. As I progressed in my seminary training, and then moved into pastoral ministry my understanding of the church began to evolve into something more foundational.

In the past few years, I have begun to acknowledge and lament how deeply the American value of independence has shaped my view of the church. I tend to evaluate my Christian life solely on my personal relationship with Christ. I have come to realize that without the church, my Christian faith is weak, unstable and simply inaccurate. I believe that this is a universal, biblical principle.

Pastor and professor Craig Barnes states that being shaped into the image of Christ “never happens outside the body of Christ, which is the church…All of this means that we don’t have a clue about who we are in Christ apart from the community” (Sacred Thirst, 158-59). It’s taken me a while, but I am convinced that Barnes is correct.

As a result of what I am learning about the church as indispensable to being a follower of Jesus Christ, my attempts to explain and define the church are changing shape. Because the Church is a divine idea, our attempts to define, understand and engage the church always fall short. Nevertheless, there are some images that can be very helpful to us; they have certainly been helpful to me. In the next few weeks I’m going to explore these images as a means of helping us gain a greater understanding of the indispensable nature of the Church. Perhaps they will encourage you as they have me.