We very well know the definition of the church, for we sing the famous chorus, “You are the church. I am the church together.” Also, do you know that the church is not the building or the venue to build the body of the church. But we know the building then is the house of God. What we call ‘the church,’ should be called God’s house. The writer, Isaiah, put this theory straight when he wrote: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths…” (Isaiah 4:3a). The above, then, affirms what we believe in ‘where two or three are gathered, I am there. We can conclude that this place we are in today is a Holy Ground. It is a mountain of God, a house of God. In the Old Testament, the Israelites had a tabernacle which represented the presence of God. He had even given instructions on how it should be constructed. That is why we believe this building is special. It is a house of God and we need to care for it and keep it. When Jesus posed that important question to the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, “who do people say that I am?” it became a turning point for the disciples. More importantly is where Jesus introduces the concept of the Church when he told Peter, after his response of acknowledging that Jesus was the Christ, “And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
Then this bring us to our theme for today, “The Church of Christ.” The question we need to ask is, what is so unique in the church of Christ (us)? In answering this I would like to explore what I call the marks of the church. What makes it stand out and unique in the world?
After Jesus was raised from the dead, the church took a new life. The believers were committed to the service as well as reaching out in a practical way. It was the church in action. They practiced what they preached and lived their faith in a way that many were attracted to their faith in Jesus. The early church began with the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit that brought people speaking different languages, different nationalities and cultures came together. They were able to understand each other for they now spoke the same language of love. Church alive or church of Christ has many characteristics which in other ways I have called, ‘Marks of the Church.’ Therefore, if you want to know a true Church of Jesus Christ that is alive, we have to live and observe the principles or marks:
1. A Learning Church: The early church members were committed to the teachings of the disciples. The church had to be willing to learn new things and new ways of doing things. A church that is willing to learn, will be a forward-looking church and not held by the past or how they used to do things. They will let the past be a teacher as they go forward, which might mean doing things in a different way. “A young girl wanted to know why her mother cut off the end of the ham before putting into the oven. The mother said that she did it because that’s what her mother had done. It so happened that the grandma was visiting that weekend so the little girl asked the grandmother, “Why do you always cut the end off the ham before putting it in the oven?” The grandmother replied, “Because I only had a small pan to bake with.”
A learning church will seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they move forward. As Christians we ought to remind ourselves that we are on a journey and the journey goes forward, not backward. A learning church is, therefore, the church that will focus on the sunrise, not the sunset, not on Good Friday, though its is important, but Easter Sunday. The rising sun comes with new aspirations. Though history is good, we can’t spend all of our life worrying about the past. History informs us and we learn from our failures as well as our successes. In the church of Christ today, or church alive – you and me, we have to be willing to learn. Learn is mall groups, Bible studies as well as regular Sunday worship.
2. A Fellowshipping Church: Another mark of the church of Christ is that of fellowship. The church is not a club where once you pay your dues you are good for the duration that the fees are applicable to. God would come in the cool of the afternoon to visit with Adam and Eve. From Genesis 3:8-9: And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. “Where are you?” God was not asking for a physical location because he knew where they were. He wanted to know where they were in relation to fellowship with him. The question God is asking you and me is, “Where are we in fellowship with God?”
Being in fellowship calls also for more than just Sunday worship services. The church has to look for opportunities to eat, fellowship and socialize. Potluck lunches, salad bars, etc. This is what the early church did. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). Growth takes place in the informal settings. It is in these places that we share about our families, the challenges of life, the joys of life as well as our dreams, our hopes and our disappointments. It is where we strengthen one another. It’s like charcoal, put together they will keep the fire going but when scattered they just die. The life of the church get its strength in fellowship.
3. A Praying Church: The early church believed in the power of prayer. Paul and Silas were locked in jail and prayed, then the doors opened, (Acts 16:25-26). They would gather regularly, meeting for prayer and fellowship. The church today has to learn to believe in the power of prayer and share what God is doing in our lives. We can pray as a group, as a family and as individuals anywhere, any time. A Christian is a person of prayer. The format one uses does not matter but it is good that one takes the time to pray. In prayer we speak to God before we speak to people. In prayer we go to God before we go to the world. In prayer we meet God before we meet our problems. In prayer our communication is open between us and God.
4. A Sharing Church: In Acts 2:44-45 sharing is an important mark of the church. A church of Christ is that which is willing to share what is given to it. God blesses us as individuals as well as a group. The church has to have a sense of sharing their blessings. If the church is to be alive, it has to find an outlet of how they can share. Being involved in mission work is one of the great ways of sharing. A lake that has no outlet ends up being a salty lake because all it does is to receive. When we share we open our hand for God to put more in it. When we close our hands, there will be no place to put something. The church has to first learn how to take care of its own, meaning that other believers that need our support. We have our people who are struggling and yet they are not getting help. The church has to step up and identify the needs. We can only share if people are willing to give to our resources. The early church did that. They brought things together for the common use. I wish to thank God for this church, for the many ways we are engaged in the are of sharing. I thank God for those who donate to our food pantry, to God’s Helping Hands and other ministries to bless God.
We share what God has already entrusted to us for we own nothing, just like the early church. In sharing we allow God to bless us with more; we open our hands.