07 May What does it mean for us to be a part of a church? What does it mean for God?
Requirements for a new community
These words from the book of Acts describe the immediate results of the sermon that Peter preached after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Jerusalem. Peter’s sermon summarized the requirements for this new community, the church, and what it meant to be a part of it. The first requirement was repentance. In this case it was repentance for failing to see that Jesus was the Messiah, and for the crucifixion of God’s Son. Notice that the idea for repentance here was for a very specific action on behalf of the people of Judea and Jerusalem. It wasn’t until later that the idea of all of mankind’s guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus was developed primarily by Paul. The second requirement was baptism and it was closely linked to repentance. As the new Christian church began to become organized it became necessary for some kind of initiation in order to incorporate new believers into the fellowship of the followers of Christ.
Repent and be baptized. The baptism that we celebrate in our church is linked directly to this sermon by Peter in the first days of the Christian church. When we baptize we are not only bringing infants and adults into a new life as forgiven people, but we are also initiating them into the fellowship of the Christian Church on earth.
So what does it mean for us to be a part of a church?
For many of us, the church is a social gathering place made up of people who look more or less like we do and who believe more or less the same things we do and who have more or less the same values as we do.
For others of us, church is a familiar resting place in a rapidly changing world. We come into a building expecting to find that things remain more or less the same so that we might have a handhold in a world that seems to look different every single day.
For others of us, the church is our duty: it is something you simply do without question because it’s the right thing to do.
And still, for others, it is a social service agency: here to help fill in the gaps when other avenues of help have been exhausted.
Is it about God, or us?
All of those things and others I’m sure are part and parcel of the human experience of togetherness and fellowship. They are important. But it is also important for us to recognize that all of those reasons for being a part of the church have to do with us and not God.
The question that you have in front of you today is simple: what does it mean for me to be a part of the church? I encourage you to take a few moments and write down your honest feelings about why you are here, in this place.
Now take a few moments and think about this question: why is it important for God that you should be a part of a church?
When you were baptized you were initiated — not into a club, but into the church. God’s church is meant to be a new way of living altogether. Listen to this description from Acts: the people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, to fellowship, to breaking bread with each other, and prayers. All who believed were together and they held all of their possessions in common. They ate their food with glad hearts and had the goodwill of all people. And God added to their number those who were being saved!
The practice of Christianity
It is far more difficult to practice Christianity then it is to believe in it. Practicing it means that this church may not always be a place of comfort for you; indeed, it may sometimes be a place of challenges. It means that all who believe are together in one place regardless of social status, color of skin, choices they have made in their past. We are bound together by the same ideas, by the same practices, and the same religious habits of studying, breaking bread, and praying. We do these things, not for ourselves but because that is the new life that God has called us to.
So, what does it mean for you to be a part of this church?