Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1Peter 4:1-11 (ESV)
One of the things I love about the Scriptures and the Gospels in particular is that people are usually portrayed as just that: people. There are miracles and wonders that occur throughout many books and many of these have become some of our most beloved stories. But the people to whom, and through whom these miracles are accomplished are usually shown as having good days as well as bad days, just like you and I. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, which spends the majority of its chapters portraying Jesus as the Teacher and True Interpreter of the Law of Moses – ending with His resurrection and commanding His disciples to pass on that teaching to the rest of the world… this same Gospel writer also states that “when they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted.” Even those who had been with Jesus in the flesh for several years did not have it all together.
There are many models of ministry out there today – particularly of what it means to be the Church, and a church in the world. Some have viewed the church as a pulpit and altar, where the Word of God is to be proclaimed and commitments offered up to Him for salvation. These traditions emphasize the “go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…” aspect of the last command of Jesus. Coming from another direction, others have viewed the Church as a schoolhouse, where we are to be trained in holiness and the way to live as Christians. These churches emphasize the “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” aspect of the Great Commission. Still others view the Church as a hospital where those who seek healing from the brokenness in their lives can come and be made whole. In our study with Koinonia, we have come to look at the Church primarily from the model of a Family – God’s own adopted family in this world. It’s important to remember that all of these images: altar, school, hospital, family… are just that – images. They are our way of using things we know to describe things bigger than all of us. Therefore, instead of getting into arguments about which is the best model, we need to look at the deeper question they all seek to address. Is the Church a place for sinners or saints? In other words, is the Church a place you go when you are not quite right and want to change, want to turn back to God? Or is it a place where you come to spend time with God in praise and thanksgiving, learning to be more holy – more like Him? According to Scripture, the answer is: Yes!
The Bible in general and Jesus in particular never presents the Church as a place for sinners or saints. It is not an either/or choice. It is both at once. It is a place for people to connect with God from wherever they are as God’s grace falls upon them in accordance with His love for us. Why then, do we continue to struggle in our congregations with how do preach, how to teach, how to welcome people when they visit our church – on the basis of how Christian they seem to be? Does it matter if the people in our congregation have been in church for 50 years or only 5? Does it make a difference if we are teaching people who have degrees in Bible and Theology or others who have only heard God’s name used as a swear word? Yes, in getting down to the nitty gritty details, these issues do matter, but we cannot lose sight of what the real purpose of being a church, of being The Church: Koinonia – the vessel of holy community that brings Christ Himself to the world. It doesn’t matter how deep the theology is that you are teaching, if the Spirit of Jesus is not present it is just empty philosophy… ideas without the transforming power of God. If our preaching gets everyone excited but lacks the Spirit of Jesus, it’s just an emotional ride without support to carry you through the rest of the week. And if we try to do ministry alone, cutting ourselves off from the Body and the Spirit of Christ that flows through it, we will wither and die in our ministry. God may call us to get alone with Him sometimes, but He does call us to serve alone. You see, people do not need sermons to get to heaven or to grow in the Grace of God. They do not need bible studies or to learn certain kinds of teaching. They need Jesus Christ to connect them with God Himself and the Koinonia community to lift them up to Him.