(Article I wrote for the church newsletter)
When I mention the word “church,” the first thing that comes to mind for many people is a group of people, in a church-looking building, at a church service. They may envision a somber, gloomy silence, or perhaps a dancing, singing, jubilant bunch. But the point is, they think of a group, gathered together, doing their own thing.
I know people think this, because I used to think the same thing when I heard the term. In the last few years, however, I’ve come to redefine the term in my mind. Church, for me, has become more than “church,” in a sense. It has become my friends, my community, my family of believers. And it has become the very work I am doing with my family to carry out the Christian mission in the world.
That said, I find it is far too easy to forget that the church isn’t somewhere I should go exclusively to benefit myself, or even just to build up other church members. While these goals are not entirely wrong, they are not the true church. The true church exists to tell others about Jesus Christ. After all, it was Jesus himself who said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” And how better to tell others about Christ than by showing them Christ, much as he showed himself to the sick and needy.
Thus the true church is a place of work. A place of struggle – as C.S. Lewis put it in his book, Mere Christianity, “…Christianity is a fighting religion.” And what is it that we are working, striving, even fighting for? To put it simply: the justice of God.
Justice can be a tough concept to deal with – it is a word that brings many hard and fast associations to mind. We often hear the word used in the sense of “bringing someone to justice.” We may think of it as a measure to be exacted upon those who have committed wrongs, but there is another, completely different facet of justice.
Justice also must be brought upon those who have suffered injustice – the poor, the widows, the orphans, the sick and needy. Justice seeks to right the wrongs in our world, not just by punishment of wrongdoers, but also by the blessing of those harmed by injustice.
“There can be no true friendship with God apart from zeal for the justice of God, no real relationship with God without a corresponding commitment to work for the well-being of others,” said Paul Wadell, in his book, Becoming Friends.
Justice, much like the term “church,” can be a term that is very easy to turn inward, to think of in relation to ourselves, but that clearly is not what God’s justice is about. His is an outward-focused principle – one based on seeing others righted, even if it must be at a cost to ourselves. This is what Christ did for us – He worked to see us made right with the Father, at the ultimate cost to Himself.
We can’t claim the name of Christ without fighting for God’s justice in the world. Wadell continues: “Friends are people who see the same truth and who are committed to the same goals and purposes. Therefore, anyone who claims friendship with God risks embracing the mission and ministry of God. As the Scriptures make clear, it is foremost a mission and ministry of justice.”
We, as a church, have our common goal set before us. If we are to be true to our name as Christians, we must embrace a mission of justice. We must embrace the cost to ourselves that truly serving others brings.
This means going beyond the pew. It means a cost, be it to our time, our energy, or our wallets. It means taking on the burdens of others, that their loads might be easier, even as ours gets heavier. And in so doing this, we show others the way to the One who can offer the only burden that is light.
When I speak to people about church, I hope that I can communicate this idea of a working body. Not one working for itself, but for others. Yes, a group of believers, meeting in a church on Sundays to worship - but that is just the beginning.