We are called by God. If we are not called by God, even though we may come to follow Him, our following Him will not last. We will give up following Him easily when we are asked to bear the cross. We are called because God has a certain mission which He requires us to fulfil. We are called to build His church and be a blessing to other people.
When Simon Peter was asked by Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” he answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. When Peter declared Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus began to say: “Simon, you are happy indeed. For this truth did not come to you from any human being, it was given to you directly by My Father in heaven. And so I tell you, you are a rock, Peter, and on the rock I will build My Church.” What did He mean when Jesus said, “I will build My Church?” What kind of church was He referring to when He said that to Simon Peter? What does the word “Church” mean since we are called to follow Him?
Jesus’ first mission as He began His earthly ministry was to gather a few people to come to Him. He called them disciples. A disciple is a learner. These chosen people were pupils or learners in the school of Jesus. They believed they had found in His supreme nature what they were looking for.
In the school of Jesus, they learned from what Jesus said; they learned far more from what the Teacher was in Himself. As they looked into Jesus’ face, they realized their own imperfections. But, they also realized their amazing possibilities. Upon realizing their tragic lack and their thrilling potential, they were eager to be Christ’s disciples.
We as members of the Church are also disciples of Jesus. We are also learners in the school of Jesus. When we are in the school of Jesus, we are sure to receive some unfriendly critics especially when we serve as church leaders. If some unfriendly critics remind us how unlike we are to our Lord Jesus, we need to confess our unlikeness. That is why we are learners because we are learning to be more like Jesus. If some people point out our imperfection, we reply that we make no claim to perfection. We are in the school of Jesus because we have not come to our perfection and we have not come to the likeness of our Lord Jesus.
Because we have seen in Jesus the beauty and love of His life, because we have realized our own ugliness, and because we long to be more like Him, we have become members of His Church. We know the Church which Jesus meant is a company of learners. We are learning from Jesus to be more perfect, to be more loving, and to be more like Him.
As members of the Church, we are a brotherhood. But we do not mean to be a perfect brotherhood. This brotherhood is never perfect because it always has been composed of imperfect people. In the Church, there always have been those who refuse to surrender their selfishness and their hatred. There have always been those who have had a fighting interest when things are running smoothly. And the list goes on. In spite of these imperfect elements, the Church is heading toward the likeness of Jesus. It is this spirit of brotherliness that both amazed and charmed the ancient world. They whispered with great wonder: “How these Christians love each other!” And because they themselves wanted to love and to be loved, they were often times drawn into these little brotherly groups.
What is a church in its true sense then?
A church is the body of Christ through which the living Christ is to express Himself. That is Christ’s way of reaching out to mankind. He is to speak through our lips, to minister through our hands, to walk on errands of mercy upon our feet. We are to make it possible for our Lord to carry out His great plan for the world through us.
What is the purpose of a church?
The primary purpose of a Church is not merely to draw people to heaven. This is certainly not the main purpose of becoming a Christian. Unfortunately many people have this kind of intention when they come to join the Church. To many “Christians”, their sole purpose of coming to church is preparing them to get to heaven. As a result, some people think of the Church as a place of retreat from the world. They think of the Church not as the army of God to train soldiers for the battle, but as a nursing home or aquarium and not a gymnasium to train sports men and women for the races in the fields. Therefore, when people come to join the Church, their thoughts are not how much they can contribute to the Church and how many souls they can save for their master Jesus, instead their concerns are more on what they are going to get from the Church.
With this twisted intention of joining the Church, they tend to feel it is more blessed to receive than to give. Their concept of a pastor is not a spiritual leader in a hard-fought campaign, but rather as one who fastens himself to a huge cart and seeks to pull his saints in the Church up to heaven. Or the pastor is regarded as a kind nurse whose sole responsibility is not to wrap the wounds of the soldiers, but just to look after the spiritual affairs of his church members. But this is not the primary purpose of the Church which we are called to build. Then what is the purpose of the Church?
Firstly, Jesus spoke of the Church as salt.
What is the good of salt? For one thing salt gives a strong taste to the feast of life. For another thing salt has a great preventive function. It stands in the path of invading rottenness, of all enemies that would disintegrate the individual or the Church as a whole or even the society, and says “they shall not pass” because of the preventive function of the salt. It is the kind of responsibility which our church is bearing.
So when we talk about the purpose of the Church, her task is to prevent our community from getting worse and worse and to rescue the perishing. She has a remedy that the world needs. Her supreme mission is not to cure but to prevent.
The Church we are called to build is thus bringing out the best of the saving salt. Without the saving salt in preventive function, the civilization of the human race will rot and social morality will deteriorate day by day.
Secondly, the purpose of the Church is to remake the world through our witnessing.
We are called to bring in the kingdom of God. We are to do this by our personal testimony. We are to give it most of all by what we are. When the early Christians saw the wonders and the mighty acts of Jesus, they said, “We cannot but speak things which we have seen and heard.” Since the day we became Christians, we also have seen the wonders and the mighty acts of Jesus. Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. (Heb 13: 8)
We are to speak under a compelling sense of deity. We are to speak of the transforming power of the grace of God that the world will be remade. Jesus is the hope of the world.
Thirdly, as members of the Church, we are to foster and keep alive in our own hearts and in the hearts of other people a bearing sense of God.
We all live in a world where the visible things press hard upon us. While we are living in the realm of the seen world, we find it very easy to forget the unseen things. The purpose of the Church is to bring to men the sense of God. The Church we are called to build has the responsibility to help our people to always remember the unseen things which are so important to their life.
How does the Church fulfil its purpose in this sense? When we see the Church, it reminds us that the Church stands as a witness to the reality of those values which are spiritual. It constantly proclaims the great truth that man shall not live by bread alone. By making real in the hearts of men, a sense of God, the Church keeps alive those high spiritual values that underlie all other values.
As a pastor of the Methodist Church, I feel proud though I have no wealth to boast of. But I feel proud because I am representing the best institution in the world. If we are true to our high calling, we are worth more in dollars and cents in our place than any multi-millionaires that our business can make possible.
As members of the Methodist Church, we earnestly desire to help build the Church. “Let everything be done with a view to building,” said Paul. This is done in the realization that our Lord Jesus builds the Church through us. We are the material out of which this living temple is to be built. If we are Christ-like, then the Church which is made up of us is Christ-like too. We are the body of Christ; we are His hands, His feet, and His voice.
“God has no hands but our hands to do His work today; He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way; He has no voice but our voice to tell men how He died for us; He has no help but our help to lead them to His side.”
We are God’s instruments. If there is anything done towards the building of a stronger and victorious Church on earth, we are the ones to have to do it. God builds His Church only through men and women who are willing to co-operate with Him.
Nonetheless, building is always costly. Building is never meant to be easy. Jesus was aware of the cost when He decided to build His Church. It cost His very own life to build the Church on earth. He built His Church in the face of opposition and in spite of opposition. He had only a handful of disciples without either prestige or power. Furthermore, not long after He had spoken of building His Church, He himself was arrested and soon was put to death on the cross. At His crucifixion, all His followers forsook Him and fled after their master’s death. To the Pharisees and Jewish leaders, they were once pleased and happy about the death of Jesus because they had succeeded in getting rid of a troublesome imposter and had crushed the little sect that Jesus once organized. But Jesus’ word proved to the world of His authority. He proved that the world would change but His Word remains the same forever. When Jesus said, “I will build My Church”, He meant to build it at all cost even at the cost of His very life. Only a few days later, the Pharisees and Jewish leaders were amazed to find that the Church which they had thought dead was not dead at all, but more alive than before. No matter how hard they tried to abolish the Church, they succeeded only in spreading the fire that they thought they had put out.
Down the centuries, many harsh persecutions have taken place in the history of mankind. The evil power has been trying all means to bring down the Church, but the Church continues to stand firm and flourish. Countless Christians remain faithful in their faith. The Church still lives and will continue to live.
Revolutions sweep our earth every now and then; civilizations may rise and fall; Satan may work hard to mislead the Christians in the Church, but the Church is one institution which is going to live until the second coming of our Lord Jesus. Therefore we are not fighting a losing battle. We are always winning souls for our Lord Jesus. He is with us always. Since He is with us always, who can stop us from spreading His gospel, from building His Church and from witnessing for our Lord Jesus?
With such an assurance let us go with faith and build His Church according to His will.
By Bishop Emeritus Rev Peter Chuo