The numbers continue to come in: the traditional denominations are shrinking. Yet many new, independent, gospel-centered churches are growing. That said, many in the wider community, especially on the east coast from DC to Maine and on the west coast from LA through the State of Washington, dismiss church as irrelevant. At best, it is said, churches provide useful compassionate care for people in need. But, go to church on Sunday? ‘No! Even if I wanted to, services are out of date, boring, and irrelevant.’ For most people there is nothing attractive about church.
How different this is from the Apostle Paul’s understanding. When he thought of church he thought in terms of vital, growing communities. The dream of church that fired his heart was a new society of men and women drawn together out of their common love of Jesus. There was nothing dull or boring about church in Paul’s mind. In fact, in Colossians 1:6 he says that the gospel, which is at the heart of every true church, is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world.
Vital Churches. In Colossians 1:24 Paul summarizes in just one line the essential teaching of true churches: Christ in you; the hope of glory.
There is a simplicity and generosity in this. Christ in you is a present experience; the hope of glory speaks of a future reality.
Many people view Christianity as a moral code they must struggle to observe, or a creed they must mindlessly recite each Sunday. Church seems so legalistic and dull. But Paul disagrees. The essence of the teaching of true churches is about a relationship with the One who is at the heart of the universe. It’s about Christ in you.
Sadly, because many churches have not made the message of the God of compassion, clear and unambiguous, many feel cut off from church, the gathering of God’s people — sometimes by feelings of failure or unworthiness, of ignorance or unbelief.
But in Colossians Paul is saying that something has happened which can bring a supernatural reality into their lives. Christianity, as one ancient writer put it, is about ‘God in the soul of men and women.’
And there is something more: the message of the true church has a future expectation – the hope of glory. An awakening now to the riches of spiritual realities that are grounded in history, is only half the story. Our experience now is just a foretaste of something far greater that God has in mind for his people.
Suffering and death cast a shadow over our human experience. Indeed, no matter how fulfilled we may feel now, the reality of one day slipping off this mortal coil, as Shakespeare put it, mocks our happiest moments. But not for God’s people, says Paul. In the same way that Jesus gives meaning and purpose to life now, so he assures of a life to the full for eternity. Christ in you now means the hope of glory in the future.
Glory! It’s waiting for us, Paul says. Everyone who is experiencing the true peace and joy of knowing Christ now, has a glimpse of what it will be like when we are alive with God. The best is yet to be.
Developing Effective Churches. Because the ministry of many churches is focused on insipid singing and poor preaching, or form and ceremony, and not the joy and vitality of the essence of the faith, many in the wider community have turned away from church.
Exploring ways we can more effectively reach out to the disinterested or even hostile is one more theme we plan to explore at the upcoming Anglican Connection Conference. And, if you reckon you are doing well, consider how you can assist others who are struggling. Don’t miss out!