The Church of the Nazarene’s Article of Faith XI sheds insights on what it means for us to be the church. Here. Now. Today.
Extreme sports are very popular these days. We seek to escape routine by experiencing something challenging such as swimming with sharks or co-piloting a jet fighter. People hate to feel bored. While the church isn’t called to stage Bungie jumps or survival challenges in the jungle, being part of a “community that confesses Jesus Christ as Lord,” as expressed in our eleventh article of faith, should be far from boring. In fact, participating in the church should be a vibrant, exciting and challenging experience for all Jesus Christ’s disciples.
The church has only one Lord. While people can be wary of the human institution we call the church, we need to recognize that the church does not have a human origin, nature, and purpose. The Bible provides us with an example of a living church, incarnated in history, faithfully following the example of the Lord, and acting to transform the world. The church is God’s design; He is the creator.
As Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:25, Jesus Christ paid the price so the church could be established and developed in this world. The Holy Spirit is its builder; He provides the materials (new believers, leadership, gifts) to help this building to grow and develop to the full potential of its capabilities, fulfilling the purpose for which it was designed (Acts 1:8). We believe in a church that, like its Lord, uses the weapons of faith, peace, truth, justice, and the proclamation of the message of hope to destroy the powers of evil (Ephesians 6:14-17).
However, the church pays a very high price to advance the gospel.
On average throughout the world, 10 people are killed every day for the sole reason of being Christians.
Currently, in more than 60 countries, Christians are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, or killed due to their faithful following of Jesus Christ. The world rejects the church because the church, putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-13), does not bow down to the powers of this world, nor cringe before the spiritual forces of evil. It is made up of the people of God who are born of the Spirit (John 3:6; 1 Peter 2:9) and who live under the laws and values of the kingdom of God, not negotiating or assimilating the sinful customs of society, but rather living in holiness (Ephesians 5:27) and in obedience to Christ.
As Christ teaches in Mathew 5:13-16, the church is light and salt. The church must first love the Lord, and second love the family of God, because loving God with all our hearts means embracing His mission, His family making it our own. To love the church means “joining” it. The church “expresses its life in unity” and this communion, which is wrought by the Holy Spirit, can be easily broken if it is not cared for and nurtured. For the church to live in unity we must eliminate all attitudes, words, or conduct that harm others, and instead be proactive in showing love through relationships and in giving encouragement through positive conversation.
Nothing is more damaging to the church than Christians who complain about or speak ill of their brothers, sisters, and leaders. Although in local churches as well as at other levels of the denomination there will always be room for improving relations and issues, complaining will not solve anything. Changes will only occur when we pray and put these situations in the hands of the Lord, and as He leads us, become involved positively and actively as part of the solution! God designed the church as a place of communion, where there is healing of wounds and continued growth in the knowledge and love of God and others. The expressions of this unity are diverse, as shared in Hebrews 10:24-25: we need to pray together, intercede for one another, share food, enjoy each other’s company, partake of the sacraments, share experiences and struggles, encourage each other, give good advice, and comfort and build each other up in the Word.
God’s love unites the church and fills the lives of His children, then they are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit teaches us to love God and our neighbor with a love which is “impossible” without His grace: an extreme and unlimited love. (Matthew 18:15-22.) The church spreads life Just as Jesus did: the church is called to give its life, to sacrifice so that individuals and families come to salvation and are restored to abundant life in Jesus Christ. The church, through the proclamation of the word of truth, exposes the powers of evil, which are hidden in the structures of injustice and oppression. It does not ignore suffering, but stands as a defender, fighting to restore all creation, especially to the helpless, those who are invisible in this world.
Every day the church struggles to minimize poverty, ignorance, disease and all sorts of suffering and injustice. For those who come from a Christian family, the church, rather than a mere community, is our extended family. There we have grandparents, aunts, cousins, parents and siblings in the faith who love us and who are interested in our welfare. However, thanks be to God, this is not just true of those who have grown up in a community of faith; everyone can experience the church as a family.
Recently in a Church of the Nazarene baptismal service in Barrio Los Ángeles, San José, Costa Rica, candidates shared stories of lives that touched the entire congregation. A young man of 19 who came to the church a year before talked about the loneliness that he had experienced since childhood, suffering verbal abuse from his stepfather. Holding back his tears, he stressed that when he arrived at the church, he felt loved and accepted for the first time in his life. In the church he found the love of family, which he had always longed for. Then an older woman said she had sought all her life to feel loved and accepted. Her bad decisions had led her to a life of sin and vice, but her story changed completely when she came to the church. In the church she found love and acceptance, and through discipleship she found guidance to redirect her life following Jesus Christ. Within a year, her situation completely changed and now her dream is to train and use her gifts to win other women for Christ.
Our life, our history, consists of a progression of experiences. Some of them are unexpected, but most of these experiences are the product of our choices. The decision to join the Church of Jesus Christ is one of the most important and crucial life decisions someone can take. It is an extreme decision, one that will forever transform our life, giving it a new purpose and a new direction.
Live the extreme experience of being the church
To experience the extreme experience of being the church, we have to get involved in what God is doing in the world to transform the lives of every child, young person, adult and senior citizen forever. To engage in God's mission is the most challenging life dynamic that anyone can propose to us. Today, many Christians need to change the way they see the church. God did not create the church to be one more activity in our lives, but rather to engage us in transformational and exciting experiences. The beautiful event of accepting Christ as Savior is not the only vibrant experience that God has prepared for His children.
The Christian life does not have to become routine and boring. When we look at the life of Jesus and the Christians of the early church, or when we read the biographies of great Christians who preceded us, we can say that their lives were far from boring; they were full of excitement and purpose. Everyone who belongs to the church of the Lord shares the same vocation: “to work for justice and bear witness to the kingdom of God” in this world; promoting the kingdom of God in our midst, shedding light over darkness, risking being different, living in holiness, and being like Christ in the midst of a society that is sinking deeper into sin and knowing less and less about God. This is our great challenge.
Is it possible to change the world? Yes, but we need to commit ourselves with all our being. How will we do it? By working together as the church.
First, we need to cry out in constant and passionate prayer for family, friends and acquaintances who are lost.
Second, we must open our hearts making friends with unbelievers, sharing Christ with them and teaching them to live in holiness as disciples of Jesus.
Third, our task is to train them and integrate them into the ministry of the church, so that they too may become agents of change in their community.
The church was designed to be the Body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23). The call of the Lord is clear: He can only use a church that surrenders completely to His perfect will (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 5:2). God calls each and every one to serve in a specific place in his work, both in the church and in the world, creatively using the gifts, skills, financial resources, and time He gives us. The best way to combat routine and boredom is to identify our gifts, perfect them and use them, and in doing this we will never be bored.
Serving the Lord is a life full of expectation, and exciting and surprising experiences. We are called to live the extreme experience of being actively involved in the church of Christ. The Lord invites us to be part of His wonderful plan, a project where we can grow and be improved continuously, where we can strive to the limit and give back to God everything good and wonderful that the Creator has placed within us. This is a project that will not end with our lives, but will remain for eternity in every person who is rescued from the chains of sin. Let us not be mere spectators, but instead let us work together as the church living this extreme experience of participating with Jesus as He transforms the world.
Mónica Mastronardi de Fernández is vice-rector of institutional development and a professor at Seminario Nazareno de las Américas in Costa Rica.
Holiness Today March/April 2016