The Identity of the Church (Part 1)

For TV and movie viewers, Superman is not hard to identify. Having seen pictures, a person could easily identify the Statue of Liberty or Washington Monument. Each of these have an identity all their own, just like specific companies, hospitals, or service organizations can be identified by logos, labels, or mottos. Those marks of identity are all very important to their image in the public.

A matter of importance with each of the above examples is people know what is available at each of those locations. You do not receive an oil change at McDonald’s, but you do at Jiffy Lube. A person does not find food at Lowe’s, neither can you buy a car at Verizon Wireless. People know what these places provide. It does not confuse people, nor are there surprises. They know what is provided at each location.

How about when it comes to the identity of the church? What are the marks, “logos,” or “labels” showing people what the church is? It often depends on who you ask. Some think of the church as divisive. Others see it as a help center, a place to hear long, boring sermons, a group of narrow-minded people, a place to hang out or find recreation, a place of reverence,  or the assembly of people of God. For some, the words Christ, grace, or truth might come to mind. With all these various thoughts about the church, the body of Christ becomes hard to identify.

In a 2008  article from The Christian Chronicle, an international magazine of Churches of Christ, these following words were written: “In the past, Churches of Christ were distinguished by belief in church autonomy, baptism for forgiveness of sins, weekly Lord’s Supper on Sunday, public male leadership, plurality of elders, and a capella singing,” said David Duncan, pulpit minister at the Memorial Church in Houston. “Now, some congregations have given up most, if not almost all, of these distinctive characteristics.”

It is easy to tell the thoughts some have about church identity. They want a more modern look. They desire a different “feel.” Authority is removed and replaced with subjective ideas.

One of the first matters to identify in the church are Christians. Every Christian in the church is three things. First, an obedient, humble believer - one who has faith in Jesus, who God sent to earth to live sinlessly and shed His blood in death to provide man redemption to God. Second, a maturing member - a born-again soul who does not always remain a “babe in Christ.” At first, each Christian desires the milk of scripture as a baby would physical milk (1 Peter 2:2). Each believer in Christ learns more richly and deeply about scripture and grows into the image of the Christ who died for all mankind (Ephesians 4:13). Thirdly, a body builder. Every follower of our Lord is one of many believing members who do not isolate themselves from the people of God. They join in fellowship. We are fellow-citizens, fellow-workers, fellow-members (1 Corinthians 12:12-14; Ephesians 2:19-22; 4:16). There is no such thing as “floating members.” Every Christian is added to the body of Christ (Acts 2:47) in local places to work with others to do the work of the Lord. 

The members of every church are blessed from reading, learning, serving, and teaching. The results are witnessed in patience, love, increased faith, courage, and conviction. When the Bible commands Christians to “love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24), the church becomes identified as humble servants - members who do not shy away or make excuses for the responsibilities they have in the body of believers called the church. Using God-given abilities and fulfilling the duties needed for those who need help, support, love, strength, and hope is a sign of Christians putting the kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33).

Besides service, another specific identifying mark of the church is the time and manner of worship given to the God who saved them in Jesus Christ. Looking at the variety of ways churches today offer worship makes one think it is left up to each church the way they believe it is best to worship God. God designed worship for a church to help us see who is the author of our faith and the creator of all things. God gave the church the assigned tasks of praying, studying, singing, giving, and remembering Christ’s death in the Lord’s Supper as the means of praising God (Acts 2:42; 4:23-31; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Ephesians 5:19). These tasks are individual commands to participate in with other Christians,  and are not to be experienced alone at home (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is a congregational mission - a mission we willingly volunteer to follow. Commands fulfilled and benefits given come from obeying what God specifies. Following God’s way in worship identifies what the church is and what brings praise to God in order for it to be said, “Unto hHim be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever” (Ephesians 3:21). 

More next time...