Updated: Aug 18, 2019
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. –Philippians 2:7-8
During bible study at a congregation council meeting many years ago, one of the council members asked a question that has stayed with me. “What makes the church different than say, the Rotary Club?” The simple answer is, of course, “Jesus.” But (in good Lutheran fashion) the follow up question is “So, what does this mean?”
As Christians get ready to enter into another Holy Week, I think it is a good time to pause for a moment and ask ourselves again, “Why Jesus?” and the corollary question, “Why church?” How does Jesus make the church different than the Rotary (or any other organization for that matter)?
My answer to that question usually starts with a statement about what the church is not. In my humble opinion, the Church is not…
…A social club for like-minded people. The purpose of being a church is not to get together and have a good time with people. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with getting together, having a good time and building friendships. We humans need community. But, it is in the community of faith where our faith is shaped, where we hear the Word proclaimed and share in the sacraments and learn the Way of Life that Jesus teaches. Christian communities form disciples of Jesus, just like Jesus raised up his disciples in community.
The church is also not…
…A social service agency or political action committee (conservative or liberal). There are lots of organizations that do both of these things well with no reference to Jesus whatsoever. Again, don’t get me wrong. For Christians, loving our neighbors is not an option. It is a command. The Church has started many social service agencies and has advocated for justice through its many centuries. But, this work does not set us apart.
So, why Church? I would say that the Church exists…
…To tell the story of Jesus. I think this is the number one reason God called the Church into being. The Church’s primary calling is to proclaim the Good News that, through Jesus death has been defeated by the creative power of God’s love and life. The Rotary doesn’t do that. The garden club doesn’t do that. The Red Cross doesn’t do that. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party do that. Only the Church does.
The Church exists…
…To live in the Way of Jesus. Christians not only proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus, we also strive (imperfectly) to model our lives after the life of Jesus. Because Jesus loved, we love. Because Jesus reached out to all people, we reach out to all people (exclusive of none). Because Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons and fed the hungry multitudes, we work for healing, hope and respond to human need. When it is at its best, the Church shows the world what the Reign of God looks like; a Reign which transcends the limits of all our human institutions, organizations, governments and politics.
The Church exists…
…To invite people into the love and life Jesus offers. Whether in proclaiming the Good News by telling Jesus’ story, or sharing that Good News through acts of love, and mercy, compassion and kindness, justice and peacemaking, we invite others to join us in this way of life that gives life.
So, why Jesus?
Jesus embodies the love of God for the whole world, and invites us into that love.
Jesus accompanies us through the power of the Spirit and shows us, and all people, the way to hope and healing and wholeness.
Jesus opens a way for us through death and into life not only when we die, but as we face the thousands of “little deaths” that shape our lives.
Sharing the mind of Christ is what distinguishes us from the Rotary, and every other institution, organization or group.
That’s how I would answer the question. How would you?
Thanks for reading! Have a blessed Holy Week!