Take a moment and think about a Christian person who really bugs you. It might be something about their personality that rubs you the wrong way, or it may be something about the way they express their Christianity that drives you nuts, perhaps because you think they are nuts. It might be someone you know personally, it might be someone you know from the tv. One would hope it is not the person you are married to. Now I have some good news and I have some bad news. First the bad news: If you are a Christian you will be spending the rest of eternity with that annoying person. Now the good news: You will be mature enough to handle it by then!
But perhaps the person you think of is not so much “buggy” but hurtful. Perhaps you still feel the wounds and are harbouring ill feelings toward that person. On the one hand you will be spending eternity with that person, on the other hand, by the time that day comes, you will have matured considerably in Christ-likeness and grace. The trick for the Christian though, is that the Kingdom realities we look forward to in eternity, we are to reach toward, grasp and bring back to our day. We cannot pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” and not make a serious commitment to forgiveness and grace. All too often Christians have left churches to escape people they don’t want to forgive, not realising that there is a wonderful family reunion ahead. Why not act like family now?
Paul calls the Church the “family of faith” in Galatians 6:10, and there is much to show that the first Christians considered themselves that very thing. An interesting exercise would be to read through all the letters and underline all the times the writer calls the recipients “brothers.” It would be over one hundred times. Then consider too, that this sense of family paid no attention to regional barriers, nor to which “church you attended”. How things have changed!
Since the Christian community is family, there naturally (and supernaturally!) arose a care one for another. We see this even in material matters in the very first description of the Church in Acts 2:
So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:41-47 NRSV
We should not take this description as descriptive of some early form of communism, but rather as descriptive of people acting like family, and one modelled on the love of God. But this concern for one another was also for more spiritual matters also: “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” Galatians 6:1 NRSV. But how often do we actually see such deep conversations within the church family? Many attend church seeking an encounter with God (very important and much better than seeking an encounter with a well run service and a well written and delivered sermon), but miss out on encountering the people of God all around them. It is hard to have the difficult conversations of spiritual care Paul is commending when there are no conversations! I am grateful to be part of a church that can be incredibly noisy before and following, and between the services – so many conversations – so many messy lives colliding including my own – people acting like family.
So why bother with Church? That should be a bit like asking why bother with family.