The title that we have on this article is a challenge that comes across on our e- mails from our web site on nearly a daily basis. The author of such a statement will usually follow it up by making reference to something bad that has been done by people claiming to be Christians and functioning as "the Church." It may be the Crusades, the pedophile problems in the Catholic church, or the inconsistencies of a church or individual on a local or political level that is being referred to. When people make a challenge like this, not only do they not understand what the Church is, but they also have missed what the purpose of the Church is all about.
It is important to understand that the Church described in the Bible has nothing to do with brick and mortar. Buildings do not really have anything to do with the Church, and what the Bible describes as the Church is always presented in terms of people, not structures. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 we read "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" The Church abides within Christians. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 6:15-17 that one of the reasons why engaging in sexual immorality is so wrong is that the members of the body of Christ, the Church, are joined to a harlot, and in verse 19 he repeats the concept that the body is the "temple of the Holy Ghost that is in you."
For many people that concept is very hard to grasp, because they interpret everything in a physical way. Understanding how something as close to God as the concept of the Church is can be hard to grasp. Not understanding it makes it hard to see how the Church can have any relevance to life, or how prayers can be answered by God. We would like to make an attempt to explain this, and hope that those who are wrestling with this concept will be willing to study it and consider how important and relevant the Church is.
Being a Part of the Church Provides Help in Dealing with Life. God has never promised members of the Church that they will not have problems in life. Nowhere is there any indication that church members will be insulated or isolated from death, disease, poverty, or all of the other things that go with being a part of the physical world. What the Church has been told is that there will be help available to the Church to deal with the problems that come. The term that is used to refer to this help is the term Spirit. The spirit that dwells in church members is not something that turns them into a robot. Free will and choice continue to be a part of their lives--for better or for worst. A person who is a part of the Church can still make mistakes and do bad things. God's purpose in creating man would be destroyed if somehow humans who became church members were no longer able to make choices or had diplomatic immunity from problems. Even the apostles of Christ made horrible mistakes and sinned. In Galatians 2:11-13 Paul tells about Peter making a major error for which Paul had to reprimand him, and in Romans 7:15-8:1 Paul talks about his personal struggle in trying to live the Christian way of life.
What church members have is help when they have done all they can do and are at the limit of their resources. In Galatians 5:16-26 Paul discusses this. He points out that there is a battle within us between the lust of the flesh and the Spirit, and that if we "Walk in the Spirit...we shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." He then lists the awful things that the world pushes us to do and then says that the fruit of the spirit, which comes from allowing the Spirit to work in our lives, is "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." These characteristics may seem out of reach for many of us, and those of us like your author who came out of a life of total separation from God may feel that being able to do or have these things is forever a pipe dream. The fact is that in the Church we find these things, and find that we can allow these things to push out the other things that Galatians 5:19-21 describe: "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, etc." All of us know people who have cleaned up their act when they became members of the Church. They have learned to look to a higher power and there is a force there that can provide help they never had available before.
Being a Part of the Church Makes Prayer Practical. Very closely related to the help that God gives us in dealing with problems in life is the way prayer works in our lives. Most of us are familiar with promises of Jesus like Matthew 7:7-8 where we are told "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened." Many people assume that this a credit card promise, that whatever physical things we ask for will be given to us. This passage and others like it are spiritual passages that deal with the things that we want and need, but they need to be what God wants as well. A few verses before this passage Jesus tells his followers not to worry about food or clothing, and then He talks about how we treat our brother. James 4:3 tells struggling Christians that they ask and they do not receive because they are selfish in their motives, wanting to consume what they ask for on their lusts.
Prayer gives us a constant focus on God and all the good things that God brings to us. In Romans 8:26 church members are told that "the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." That statement is followed by God telling us that "all things work together for good to them that love the Lord" (Romans 8:28). Prayer and our relationship to God does not mean that we will have diplomatic immunity from problems, because if that were the case people would be coming to God just to solve their immediate problem. Rather it gives us the ability to make good things come from awful situations. Prayer is another tool to assist us in living life, and it is a peculiar resource of church members.
Being Part of the Church Gives Purpose and Direction to Our Existence. Why do I exist? What is the purpose of my being? Why would an all-knowing, all-powerful God create something as ugly and as dumb as me? I seriously doubt that an atheist can give a workable purpose to life. If survival of the fittest is as much as you can say, then what happens when you are no longer fit? How can life be viewed as meaningful when birth defects, disease, and age deplete our physical well being?
In Ephesians 3:9-11, Paul states that his purpose in life was "to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God who created all things through Jesus Christ. To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God, according to his eternal purpose in Christ Jesus." Paul further explains this in Ephesians 6:12 when he says "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." In Job 1 and 2 we see a description of the battle that is taking place, and while I do not pretend to understand everything about it, I know it is real and that it is going on. Like Job in Job 42:5 I can say with the problems that I have had in my life, that "before all of this happened to me, I had heard of thee by the ear, but now my eye sees you [God.]"
I know that there is a war between good and evil going on out there, and that I have a role in it. This is far beyond Star Wars or Stephen King, and my role is far better defined than any science fiction story. My purpose and calling in life gives me direction, hope, and a way of understanding life. Ephesians 3 tells me that this is what God planned from the foundation of the world, and our existence is rooted in the cosmic battle going on all around us and of which we are a part.
The Church May Be Ignorant, But It Is Not Stupid. Many Christians do not understand or do not believe that we are in a war and that the enemy uses spiritual terrorism. The comforts of this world and the insulation that they have had from the suffering and problems of others have robbed them of some very basic understandings. They may be ignorant of why we are here and what God has done, but that is the problem of individuals. Ignorance and stupidity are two different things. The ignorance of humans is not a reflection of a failure on the part of God. The church is not stupid, even if its members are ignorant. It is stupid not to allow one's self to respond to the love and plan of God. We should be ready to give an answer of the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15) and a part of that hope is that we are here for a reason and a purpose.
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, JanFeb07.