I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the purpose and importance of the church. I’ve been coming to the conclusion that modern individualism has caused us to totally misunderstand its purpose.
Most western Christians seem to think that their purpose in life, once they are part of the church, is to improve in Christian maturity and holiness until they die. Thus you get sayings like, “this life is just a practice run,” or “this life is just preparation for the next.” With this understanding, the purpose of the church is to help us, as individuals, grow in our Christian walk. The purpose of everything is my personal testimony when I die and go to heaven.
I’m coming around to the position that this is entirely backwards from what Christ intended. As I said in my last sermon, building yourself up at the expense of the rest of the church is precisely what God wants us to avoid. God is simply not as much of an individualist as we are. What he wants from us, I believe, is to form a community, the church, which, as a group represents God’s ideal for the human race. We lose this picture very easily because standard English uses the same word, in the second person, for the second person: “You (*plural*) are the body of Christ.” “You (*plural*) are the temple of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” etc. The emphasis, consistently, in scripture is the forming of a community of Christians. My development as an individual is incidental, except in terms of how it serves to build up the entire body.
Anyway, I’m not done processing through these ideas enough to say something definitive about them yet, but I’ve been meditating a little on what effect that has on different aspects of Christian life. I hit one that was particularly poignant to me:
Money. If there is someone in your local congregation who is less well-off than you, then you are keeping too much. Why do you consider your own finances more important than that of your Christian brothers? Tithing, for the poor man, is an act of faith, because he gives more than he has to spare. It’s something to aspire to. But for the wealthy man, tithing is nothing more than an excuse. He has plenty more that he can give, but he stops short because he tells himself that he has fulfilled all that is required of him. In doing so he considers himself more important than the whole body of Christ.
Isn’t this a faithful understanding of the widow’s mite?