Do I have to go to Church to be a Christian?
The question may quite easily be changed into something similar to the chicken or the egg question, you know the one … which came first, the chicken or the egg? And the best answer to that question, it seems, is … yes!
Which of course is just another way of saying, as far as the chicken and the egg question is concerned…I have no idea?
The question we want to ponder this evening, however, is - Do I have to go to Church to be a Christian or, in the style of the chicken and the egg question…“Do I have to go to Church to be a Christian or do I have to be a Christian to go to church.
And just to make it really interesting, lets add, “if I go to Church, does that mean that I am probably a Christian?
The answer, it would seem from our text, to all the above, is also yes….but in this case yes means an absolute yes, …. if!
Let’s just go through that again: “Do I have to go to Church to be a Christian or do I have to be a Christian to go to church, and, “if I go to Church, does that mean that I am a Christian?
And the answer…Yes!…if!
Paul, we will see, says quite emphatically: if you are a Christian, you have to go to church!
And then he adds, If you go to Church you have to act in certain way and by your actions – and inter-actions with fellow Church members - you may be known to be a Christian.
So the answer to our question seems to be…yes…if!
And it is the “If” part that really seals the answer in the affirmative.
To understand Paul’s answer, we need to understand what he believes a “Christian” to be and what he believes “Church” is.
And I can tell you now, in Paul’s understanding of these concepts at least, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the two – a Christian is at once part of Church and Church is not possible without Christians.
But, let’s start with the church, or, the concept called Church, and lets try and find the beginning of this concept.
Where can we first identify an organization or gathering, that we me call the first church, or the beginning of the Church?
The ready answer, often, is on the day of the Pentecost, with the Spirit dividing and enveloping the people there present.
And this one seems to be one of those…yes, but answers.
It sounds to me that on that day, rather, the Church, the already existing Church, received its mandate, its power, to go out and make all men disciples of the Lord.
Church, the first Church, happened when Jesus called the twelve - – and the twelve sat as representatives of the Church at large – the Church in this case then being the “pure communion of persons (or members of a body), bound to the living Christ (the head of the body) and to one another through the Holy Spirit – and as such then, a unity, the congregation of the saints. As such then, importantly, the members and the head make up the body of Christ. (I will elaborate on this in a moment).
Incidentally, the fact that Jesus called twelve disciples, is interesting and probably symbolic. The community of Israel, the whole community, was represented by its twelve tribes. Could it be that Jesus was saying that those who would join the twelve, would be the New Israel, the new chosen people of God?
And already we see the first “Ifs” being highlighted: If we are church, we need to be the off-spring of the saints and thus saints ourselves; if we see ourselves as saints (which we are if we say we are members of the Church) then we need to live our lives accordingly.
If we are saints in this regard, we need to live our lives as a sacrifice for all other saints (and for the sake of those who are not yet saints so that they, too, will become saints, and all of this for one purpose only: all to the glory of God!)
And for this we need to … no!… we have to go to Church. For it is in Church where our service to our fellow saints starts.
But why? Why in Church?
Because when we serve in Church we are in fact serving Jesus. Because that is what Church is! It is an extension of Christ, the living instrument of Christ. Church is us as the members, each with a certain purpose or talent, joined to the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, and the whole then the Body of Christ here on earth and until He comes again.
We have to go to Church because we are Church and as Church we have a task to fulfill. We have to serve each other, unconditionally, like Christ served us as believers.
And where do we see this spelled out to us?
We see this where Paul calls the Church, in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “the temple of God,” in Galatians 6:10, the household of faith,” in 2 Corinthians 11:2, the Bride of Christ – notice in all of these the quality of something being possessed by God or Christ or a unity endowed with, faith.
It is God’s temple; Christ’s bride (and keep in mind here the unity the bible emphasizes between bride and bride groom – “they shall be one”); faith’s household … and as such the church has a purpose, a very specific purpose – and our text tells us what that purpose is and how we may fulfill that purpose.
But just before we get to that, it is in Rom 12:4, our text, (and in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and Colossians 1: 18, 24) that we find the most compelling evidence that Paul sees the Church as being the extension of Christ self: Paul in these references and by choice, most commonly, calls the Church, in so many words - “the body of Christ”
And here, in Romans 12 from verse Paul links our lives to that of Christ in no uncertain terms: he makes us the members, the arms and the legs of this body of which Christ Jesus himself is the head of this body.
And we know how Jesus gave up His body to be sacrificed on our behalf
– and is it not our creed, our prayer, our deepest desire…to be like Christ in all of life?!
Could it be that Paul is suggesting we should give up our own bodies as a sacrifice for Jesus, doing all He asks us to do?
And are we willing to make that sacrifice of our own earthly bodies, for God?
And if we can not or will not (perhaps by saying: “ I don’t need to go to Church to be a Christian) are we then still like Christ; are we then still part of the body of Christ, the Church? And are we then still Christian?
In our text, Paul spells out what we must be prepared to do to make the sacrifice to become members of the body of Christ: first we need to understand that we are, by definition one of two possibilities: we are either already Christian, and as such part of the body of Christ through His sacrifice on the cross; or we are of this world (and in the broader context of Romans, clearly, members of the old Israel who rejected Jesus as the Messiah and who offered slaughtered animals as sacrifice rather than their own lives) (Rom 12: 1-2).
If the former, we should be willing to offer our bodies, in service and in love to one another and to place our lives unconditionally at His disposal, all for His glory;
If we are to be true members of the body of Christ, looking up to the Head to lead us to unselfish service of the whole body, the ultimate, complete, gathering of the saints (the Church) we need to each do our part to serve that body.
How do we do that? Paul says
1) By changing our minds drastically (verse two) “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” towards what God asks of us”;
The language here reminds us that Jewish believers presented sacrifices to the Lord. But Christian believers, instead of giving something outside themselves, are to offer their own bodies to God as living, holy, and acceptable sacrifices.
And where do we bring our sacrifices? To the gathering of believers, the saints.
And this sacrifice is a spiritual service involving all of their rational powers.
2) Secondly, Paul says we should act In humble service of the body, the church, by unselfishly presenting one’s God given talents to the advantage of the body (the church) (Rom 12: 3-8);
The key words here are humilty (humble) and “unselfishly”. We should not, Paul says, think too highly of oneself.
A word study suggests the word Paul uses refers to not to be high-minded beyond what is proper to think, but to set one’s mind for the purpose of being of a sound (well-balanced in evaluation) mind. Clearly, it is not about one self, but all about serving our brother and our sister, to be prepared to sacrifice ourselves for the good of those gathered as saints – the Church – the body of Christ.
3) Thirdly, Paul says we should serve each other – not ourselves but each other - in acts of kindness and hospitality (Rom 12: 9-13);
By The grace of God, we, as members of the body of Christ, are given different gifts to be used to serve each other. Paul lists the gifts and then tells the way each is to be used. The emphasis here is that these gifts are to be used. The gifts mentioned here are—(1) prophecy, (2) service or the office of a deacon, (3) teaching, (4) comforting, encouraging, (5) giving, (6) ruling or giving aid, (7) showing mercy. Each of these is a special talent for a particular type of activity.
And where or to whose benefit should we put our gifts, our talents to use? For the benefit of the body of Christ, the Church.
4) Fourthly Paul says we should desire to be like Christ in all of life (Rom 12: 14-21). We have already touched on this but to recap, we may do this by presenting ourselves as sacrifices for the living body of Christ, the Church, in the example of Jesus who paid the ultimate price so that we may become the new Israel, members of the new body of Christ.
And this is where we come full circle – and hopefully understand why, in the beginning, I said the answer to whether we should go to Church to be a Christian or have to be a Christian to go to Church, is yes...and then added a somewhat out of context “if”.
If we conduct our lives according to the prescriptions of Paul in his letter to the Romans, we, as the Romans then, become Church.
We no longer wonder whether we should go to church, we become Church.
If we are Church, we are members, arms and legs and ears and tongues, all through our many God-given talents, of the body of Christ and owe it to one another to serve each other, just as Jesus served us..
A last thought before I end: When God called Abraham to follow Him, in His covenant with Abraham he promised: I will be a God to you and you will be my people – my people, not “you will be my person”.
When Jesus gathers his disciples, He collects several people, all with different talents, and He tasks them to proclaim His truth all according to their talents. He does not call just Peter or for that matter just one any other person. He entrusts his Kingdom to several talented people.
Those people then, just like me and you here today is what church is. We are the many members of the body of Christ, with the task to maintain and grow His body.
Going to church is not a choice – it is an imperative: we are Church and must act as the body of Christ of whom we are a part, serving each other in selflessness and humility and in total dedication and service to the body of Christ
We must do this with diligence and enthusiasm…until He himself will return and reward us with everlasting love on the grounds of the sacrifices we were willing to make while being His representatives on earth.
Let us serve each other. Let us serve our Lord Jesus Christ, who served us so well.
May God grant us strength to be His precious members, his church, His new kingdom,
for ever and ever