The Scripture speaks of the church as a temple in which God dwells. It uses the analogy to communicate several vital truths. Christ is our Builder and Owner (Matt 16:18). He is our Cornerstone, and the apostolic and prophetic revelation about Him is our Foundation (Eph 2:20). We are being built by a team of “sub-contractors,” making competition and schism sinful (1 Cor 3:9-10). God lives in us, corporately (1 Cor 3:16) and individually (1 Cor 6:19), and therefore warns us against “defacing” His temple, either by harming the local church (1 Cor 3:17) or by immorality (1 Cor 6:18, 20).
All of that is wonderful. However, another lesson from the “building” imagery has become increasingly precious to me: The church is a “work in progress.” Ephesians 2:21–22 and 1 Peter 2:5 both indicate that the church is being built. It’s not finished. We haven’t arrived. And construction sites—whether physical or spiritual—are usually messy. Every church could appropriately display a “pardon our dust” sign to announce its spiritual condition.
In light of this, I encourage you to consider what your church’s “Corporate Self-Identity” is. How do you, your church leaders, and your fellow members view your local church? Is it the good church in town? The conservative music church? The uncompromising church? The serious church? The dressy church? The friendly church? The everything-runs-like-clockwork church? The our-children-are-perfect church?
I understand that every church will have a number of words that describe it well. But the most obvious description—the one that pops most readily into every member’s head—should be this: “We’re a congregation of sinners in need of God’s grace. We’re the we’re-a-mess-and-we-need-Jesus church.” Paul’s self-identification as the chief of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15 should be our corporate calling card, too.
Such a self-perception would turn most churches upside down. It would go a long way in prohibiting the charade church members put on each week in which they pretend that they’re growing, their marriages are healthy, and their children obedient. It would encourage struggling Christians (and that’s all of us!) to get help for relationship problems and besetting sins rather than working to keep up appearances. It would motivate godly transparency. It would increase mutual empathy and spiritual fellowship. It would help the church reach out to the lost, who are either frightened away or turned off by the “we’ve all got it together” air of many churches. It would inspire humility. It would invigorate worship. It would, most importantly, magnify Christ, who came into the world not to gather perfect people to Himself but to save sinners like us (1 Tim 1:15; Luke 5:32; 19:10).
So, what’s your church’s Corporate Self-Identity?
“Sound Words” is a monthly column in the OBF Visitor, the publication of The Ohio Bible Fellowship. This article was first printed in June 2009. It is cross-posted from the OBF Visitor blog, where many other articles are posted and may be searched by author, category and keyword. Information on subscribing to the Visitor is available here.