The church exists to be a sign of the breaking in of the kingdom of God into a world of torn apart relationships.
The church does not exist to sing songs; to listen to sermons; to recite creeds and liturgies; to make people feel good about themselves; to do good deeds; to perpetuate morality; to get people to believe what we believe. Those are nice and all and have their place, but they’re not what God is after.
The reason that the only “not good” thing about creation was the man being alone (Gen. 2:18) is because God is a relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Without being in relationship, we are less than human, less than the image of God we were created to be. God wants relationship.
The reason that the beginning of God’s mission of blessing and reconciliation started with the promise of children and the formation of a family (Gen. 12:2-3) is that, well, making a family is what God has been interested in from the very beginning. God wants a family.
The reason we’re shown such a terribly dysfunctional family as the descendants of Abraham in Genesis is because if God can work reconciliation in them and with them, then it’s proof he can do it with anyone, anywhere, any time, and in any circumstance. God wants a real family.
The reason the early Christians called each other brother and sister is that they were experiencing this inclusion into the family of God that amazingly crossed ethnic, social, and economic boundaries which normally keep people apart from each other (Gal. 3:26-29). God wants a world-changing family.
The reason that Paul pauses his letter to the Philippians to plead for Euodia and Syntyche to get along with each and to be one in the Lord (Phil. 4:2) is because their broken relationship stood in contrast to the whole mission of the church. God wants unity in his community.
The reason why Paul writes about marriages, families, and work relationships in Ephesians (the theme of which is unity in Christ; see Eph. 1:10) is because these are the hardest of our relationships and therefore a test of the relational unity being forged by Jesus. God wants a community of unity.
The church as community isn’t just a means by which Jesus brings about his mission. It is itself the goal of his mission: A people committed to relationship with God, one another, and the world around them.
When the church is non-relational in any way at all, it stands against the kingdom of God it professes to participate in and seeks to enlarge. On the flip side, whenever the church flourishes relationally regardless of its size and mission budget, it is a living expression of the mission of God.
This must be the one and only litmus test of the vitality of the church: Is it a healthy community?
Hear the Word of the Lord from 1 John 4 —
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. [1 John 4:7-12]
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. [1 John 4:19-21]
John is answering the question: How do you know that you love God? His answer: By loving your brothers and sisters in the church.
No love? No God. Know love? Know God.
So, let’s cut to the chase and be practical, even if it hurts.
If you’re not a part of a church community, you’re not participating in the kingdom of God because you’re not loving the community of God.
If your church is not a real community, it’s not participating in the kingdom of God because it has divorced the work of God from the people of God.
Hear this: if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing [1 Cor. 13:2]. No love. No community. Nothing.
But wherever your church community is forging new relationships and repairing broken relationships while drawing close to God in relationship, becoming one as the Father and the Son are one, then it is living at the very heart of God’s mission in the world.
So, evaluate everything in your church by this: Is it relationally robust? If it’s not, it’s time for a radical revision to take place. Today.
This is the prayer of our Lord for us:
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. [John 17:20-23]
Community is mission. And community is the goal of our mission.
Be family or be nothing.