Five Reasons Why I Believe in the Church

Perhaps I’m biased as a pastor, but I believe church involvement is extremely important. Lots of other Christians would agree with me on this, too. When we show up to church, we have the opportunity to grow closer to God and learn from other believers.

Most Sundays we profess that we believe “in the holy catholic church” during the Apostles’ Creed. Catholic in this sense is not a denomination, but rather signifies the universal church. We don’t just believe in Concord, the Methodist church, or churches in America… we believe in the church all over the world!

Here’s a brief list of reasons why I believe in the church…

1. The church is all about worshipping God

Sometimes we do treat church attendance like a box to check off so we follow the rules. Sometimes we may think church is just a place to visit with close friends or family. Perhaps we view it as a concert where we sing our favorite songs. These misleading, limited views neglect the big picture. Church is first and foremost about worshipping God. Friendship and enjoyment can be nice, but these are never the primary purposes!

Most of our week is spent laboring in one way or another. Such work is biblical, where we do tend to our affairs in daily life. But God invites us to spend time worshipping him in the midst of all the busyness we may encounter. Regularly gathering together on Sunday gives us the precious opportunity to praise God. It is such a powerful experience to stop for a moment, remember it is not about us, and give God the glory. We thank God for life’s blessings. Perhaps most importantly, we praise who God is. Personally speaking, I find that my life makes a whole lot more sense if I am having regular worshipful encounters with God.

2. God speaks to us through the church

Similar to my point about worshipping God, going to church is a wonderful opportunity to communicate with God. Of course, Christians pray together on Sunday morning. God can also use music, scripture readings, sermons, and conversations to communicate to us. It is my hope that after attending church at Concord, people would feel a little bit closer to God, and build upon that feeling as the weeks and years progress.

We can experience God in many ways, from witnessing a beautiful sunset, reading a book, to even sitting in silence on your front porch. These can obviously be impactful experiences, but nothing compares to worshipping God in the context of a community of faith. Church gives us the important opportunity to hear from God together as a family.

3. God gave the world the church

Throughout the Old Testament, we read about God’s movement among humanity. God called people like Abram and his descendants to witness to their neighbors. It seems like with every passing chapter, God sought to increase the “reach” of Israel. Other people were to hopefully see how Israel lived, and in turn follow Yahweh.

Though there were countless patriarchs, judges, kings, and prophets, it is worth noting that God did not chose to establish a worldly government to accomplish God’s purposes. Kingdoms did play a part in the Old Testament, but the climax of the biblical narrative comes a bit later. Instead, God gave the world Jesus Christ and his “bride” the church. This is how God solves the world’s problems. Through a relationship with Christ, Christians lift one another up and evangelize the world. God didn’t give us a political party, economic system, or even charismatic human leader… God gave us the church! I believe in the church because this unique community of believers was gifted to us by God. We ought to cherish those relationships as a God-given blessing.

4. The church is open to all

Some religions teach that one has to learn a unique language or move to a certain area in order to be a faithful follower. Christianity is so revolutionary because Christ meets us wherever we are. The bible can be translated to any language. We can worship in so many unique ways. We can follow God wherever we find ourselves. The church, when it lives up to it’s calling, is truly open to all. It is adaptable and eager to reach people in far off places (both geographically and socially!). God’s kingdom is open to everyone. In fact, God desires that no one would ever be left out, as we read about in 2 Peter 3:9 (“The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”).

I often marvel about how radically inclusive the church is called to be. We ought not care about someone’s skin color, language, country of origin, net worth, past baggage, or struggles. If you ask me, this is such a revolutionary concept in today’s world, given how prevalent racism, nationalism, and bigotry can be. We too often rush to divide ourselves and judge and exclude others. However, the church is inclusive. All human categories we come up with don’t matter… a fellow Christian is truly a brother or sister. To put it in Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, we are all one in Christ. And even if someone is not a Christian, we ought to treat them as a potential sibling in God’s family! Indeed the church is open to all.

5. The church has an outward mission

It is so easy to be inwardly focused nowadays. We are tempted to solely look out for ourselves, even at the expense of others. Sins like greed are frequently valued as positive traits. Many “good” things in life like friendship can quickly turn egotistical when we treat people as things to use for our personal benefit. We often struggle with being self-absorbed.

The true nature of the church is so different than any other worldly system. The church’s mission is to make disciples. Notice how this is not self-serving. It’s not about the color of the church carpet. Rather, it is about sharing the love of God with other people. The church’s outward mission is unlike anything humans could create on their own. Organizations, movements, structures, and governments exist to look out for one’s own interest. The church, on the other hand, seeks to love God and love neighbor.

Even though we should never be legalistic about attendance or think that simply showing up will result in deeper faith, coming to church allows you to participate in what God is doing. We have the biblical command to meet together with other believers. We are called to belong to one another.

What Do You Believe?

What does it mean to believe in something? Is belief something that goes on in our heads? We usually think that belief is all about a mental state. In fact, I’ve even heard from some people that Christianity doesn’t appeal to them because it is just too abstract!

As I mentioned during yesterday’s sermon, words like “faith” can sound very intellectual. “Believe” clearly falls into the category, too. We kind of have an idea of what it means, but it ends up sounding very theoretical and vague.

People can believe in the tooth fairy. They can also believe the Arkansas Razorbacks will go undefeated this upcoming football season. Are these kinds of belief the same that we find in the Christian faith? Surely faith in God is much deeper!

To go from being a seeker to becoming a believer is not an abstract step in Christianity. When we believe, that is a dynamic process with down-to-earth implications. In other words, it is far more important than believing in a fairy tale or sports team prediction.

The Greek word for belief is the same one used for faith, or pistis as I preached yesterday. It means to be convicted of the truth and to have confidence in something, so much so that one shows fidelity toward its. Pistis can also mean to be persuaded.

So in reality, belief and faith are very active sorts of words. I would argue that whatever goes on in your mind “internally” when you believe in God has a direct impact on your life. Believing in God causes you to behave and think differently. You obtain a new outlook on life. You are also led to pursue righteousness. You have a change of heart to reflect Godliness.

This idea is clearly found in the bible, too. Consider the famous “faith versus works” passage of James 2:14-17:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Faith in God means we have a tangible difference in how we live. By the power of the Holy Spirit, our life will reflect the values of God’s kingdom. To paraphrase James, we are no longer just “all talk” but have the actions to back up our relationship with God!

Most Sunday mornings, we say the Apostles’ Creed aloud in worship. For centuries, Christians have practice this as a way to articulate what we literally believe. Hopefully these aren’t just words we recite. Hopefully we see them as having real-life significance…

  • “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”- Saying this part implies we believe God orders the world around us. We do not believe things happen according to chance. Rather, God is working to heal the cosmos, even through painful times.
  • “And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…”– The “Jesus” part of the creed is the longest. We profess faith in Christ that he died for us and rose from the grave. Christ will also judge all creation. He offers us salvation. That certainly impacts how I chose to live today!
  • “I believe in the Holy Spirit”– Saying this implies that we are confident God is still moving in our world. We are not alone.
  • “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints”– We will talk more on this part later in the sermon series, but to believe in the church means we realize it is vital for our faith development.
  • “the forgiveness of sins”– If we believe in God’s forgiveness of us, surely we ought to believe in forgiving other people!
  • “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting”– If we profess belief in an afterlife, this definitely will impact our living today! From avoiding materialism to sharing this good news with others, believing in resurrection and heaven definitely impact your daily life.

So with all that said, what do YOU believe? Does faith only stay inside your head? Or do you allow it to change your heart, actions, and words?

The Apostles’ Creed does a great job of summarizing the Christian faith. As we’ve seen today, it ought to impact life right here and now. I believe something special happens when we truly believe in God. We go from being a seeker, to becoming a believer, and that will change our entire life.

Pastor’s Bookshelf: Christianity, Epidemics, and Death

With all the buzz surrounding the coronavirus, I thought it would be helpful to examine topics like diseases, mortality, and fear as they relate to faith. We often struggle with thinking about important issues from a non-Christian lens. Instead of thinking and acting with Christ in mind, we panic and go bananas!

First off, no, God is not punishing the world through the coronavirus. Read John 3:16-17 to remember the true nature of God. We live in a broken, sinful world, and that includes things like viruses and illness. God seeks to save humanity, not destroy us! Neither is this an obvious sign of the “end times.” Read Matthew 24:36 for Jesus’ reminder about the foolishness of predicting the future. When faced with the uncertainty of this life, the bible is consistent in teaching us to simply trust in God and live righteously.

In seminary we studied the early church quite a bit. These were extremely formative years for Christianity. In many ways we have such a rich heritage to remember, which, believe it or not, actually included problems with epidemics! A devastating plague struck Rome at around 300AD. Countless people began to flee the city during this tumultuous time. War and famine during this period also contributed to a lot of fear and uncertainty. A historian named Eusebius noticed something unique about Christians during this particular social panic. They behaved differently:

All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.

Many Christians stayed behind to care for the sick during the plague. They would offer comfort for grieving families by having burials. Additionally they distributed food to those who were unable to flee, including the elderly, widowed, disabled, and young. They were willing to risk their lives to care for those who needed it most.

Many historians notice a direct connection between the ministry of the early church and the formation of hospital care. Before, people did not have access to medical care on a grand scale. Many diseased persons were simply pushed to the outskirts of towns and cast aside. In the worst cases, the sick were left behind to die during epidemics. But Christians, following the commandments of Christ, knew that their devotion to God ought to include loving their neighbors. That also included loving infirm neighbors, too. In fact, Jesus in Matthew 25 spoke of how if we tend to the sick, we are actually caring for him!

John Wesley, in his sermon “On Visiting the Sick,” once noted that we ought to tend to people regardless of their personal beliefs. In fact, visiting and caring for non-Christians opens up opportunities to share even more about God’s love:

These little labours of love will pave your way to things [of] greater importance. Having shown that you have a regard for their bodies, you may proceed to inquire concerning their souls. And here you have a large field before you; you have scope for exercising all the talents which God has given you.

He also offered a grave observation that many people do not have sympathy for the needy because we don’t visit them in the first place. I see this played out nowadays with how calloused people can be towards victims of disease or poverty. We want to protect ourselves at cost of loving others.

These stories are helpful for us to remember nowadays. There have been many news stories of people showing hostility (both on social media and in-person) towards people of Asian heritage, immigrants, healthcare workers, and members of the military. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from the early church and Wesley. If coronavirus turns into a much bigger epidemic, why not see it as an opportunity to support various health ministries and lend a helping hand to those who need it?

Fear is one of our more common emotions. We still worry and in a twisted way, cannot stop focusing on bad news. Even in “worst case scenarios” let’s remember the “big picture” of our faith. Suppose coronavirus gets far worse than it is now. We as Christians shouldn’t even be worrying about death itself!

Stanley Hauerwas is a Methodist theologian at Duke Divinity School who frequently dives into topics like medicine, healthcare, and death. Here are some brief reflections on the gospels in his book A Cross-Shattered Church:

Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. But Lazarus is still to die. We are still to die. Jesus, by contrast, has been raised never again to die. His death makes possible a communion that overwhelms the loneliness our sin creates. Our God has made his home among the mortals by assuming our deadly flesh so that we might be made friends of Jesus and even one another. Such friendship means we rightly mourn the loss of friends, yet we can rejoice in the knowledge that the living and the dead share the common reality of this new city, a city of the martyrs, the New Jerusalem.

Never forget that life is a gift and we ultimately belong to God. All the people Jesus healed still died. Fullness of salvation only comes once we go back “home” after leaving this earth.

It is so important to remember that even in the face of death itself, we ought to have our hope fixed on Christ. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming fearful. Instead, see the countless opportunities around us to spread the good news, and place your trust in God alone.