The other day I was listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley and he made the following observation, “The closest people will ever come to being in the presence of the Living Savior is when they are with the body of Christ that is functioning as the body of Christ, that’s carrying on the work He left us here to do, and that’s as good as it gets until Christ comes back.”
He’s right, you know. Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20, NIV84). So being “in the presence of the Living Savior” when we gather in His name is a reality.
Now the operative words here are “in my name.” To meet in Jesus’ name does not mean that a bunch of Christians get together and whatever they happen to be doing, Jesus is going to be there.
“In my name” carries the idea of the authority of being about official Jesus business. When we gather and do the things Jesus did while He was on Earth and the business He left us as His church to continue, that’s when He shows up.
We are not talking about fellowship outings, and church dinners here, we are talking about the church acting upon the commission of her founder. That commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20, GNB).
I have been in church all my life. There were times when I can tell you for sure, no matter what songs we sang or preaching we heard or the ritual we followed, Jesus was not there.
It is not because He wasn’t holding up His end of the bargain; it was because we weren’t holding up our end: We have been claiming to meet in Jesus name, but we weren’t doing official Jesus business.
Many churches are little more than country clubs for church members, and we busy ourselves with serving the needs and wants of our members, but we are not carrying out our assigned task; we are not doing official Jesus business.
The prophet Isaiah put such meetings this way, “The Lord said, ‘These people claim to worship me, but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorized.’” (Isaiah 29:13, GNB).
“So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there — so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured.” (Isaiah 28:13, NIV84). It is possible to have all the right elements of what we call worship, and never get to the business of Jesus.
In my church experience, I have learned that church can either be a hindrance or a help to the message she is trying to bring.
When we gather as a religious institution focused on right protocol, (do, do, do, rule, rule, rule, don’t, don’t don’t), we may have the appearance of a church, but we are not the true gathering of believers.
If, however, we gather as a relational body and focus on the heart and love of the One we claim as Savior, then and only then do we really become Jesus’ congregation; then and only then are we the church.
When a group of Christ-followers get together and start loving and serving one another the way Jesus did, and where the church is actually being the church, the barriers that many have are broken down, rough edges begin to smooth, and hearts begin to soften to the message, and life change begins to take place.
Isn’t that what we are supposed to be about anyway?
John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.