Church began with relationship, the relationship between Jesus and His disciples. Each of the disciples knew Jesus in fact they knew Him pretty well, at least in human terms. They spent three years together travelling, eating, talking, laughing, crying and learning; they were close friends. Over time, the disciples came to love and trust Jesus.
We also have relationships with Jesus, although that relationship is somewhat different than the disciples had with Him when He walked the earth. The relationship that we have with Him is of the type the disciples had with Him after Pentecost; it is a spiritual relationship. Yet, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that a spiritual relationship is any less personal or intimate than being close friends in the physical realm would be, for the opposite is actually the case.
A great deal of space on this blog is dedicated to the building of our relationships with our Lord, for this is the key relationship in a Christian’s life… at least it should be. It is a relationship filled with wonder and awe, and sometimes with amazing lessons. As wonderful as this relationship can be, it brings with it a danger. The danger is that we might forget that Jesus died for all, and not just for me. In those cases, it might seem like John said:
For God so loved me that He gave His one and only Son, that if I believe in Him I will not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16 (?)
Isn’t that a nice thought? The only problem is that I have misquoted John.
Our personal relationships with Jesus are wonderful, and yes, it is for you and me to enjoy with Him, but this personal relationship is only a beginning step from which greater and more wonderful things emerge for the benefit of others. Here, I’ll put this another way: I get all I need from my relationship with Jesus, but to be completely honest with you, I get more than I need from my relationship with Jesus, and He gives me the extra to share with others. If I decide to horde that extra for myself, I am just like the servant who buried the talent the Master gave him, and like that servant, I will have much to answer for.
The Kingdom Jesus preached was a movement. Wherever Jesus went, things happened when He preached the Kingdom. People were healed, they regained their sight, they were made whole again, they were made clean again, and more were drawn to Jesus as a result. In the early church, many of the Apostles experienced the same thing as they preached Jesus to ever larger crowds; the church became a place of salvation, healing, sight, wholeness, cleansing, love, justice and unity as they shared of the excess Jesus had given them in their relationships with Him, and that is what church should be today: A movement that brings with it salvation, healing, wholeness, sight, cleansing, love, justice and unity.
In the past, I have had occasion to study political movements throughout history and in doing so, I noticed a trend; every movement has a catalyst. In a political movement, the catalyst is often an ideal of some sort. Every movement also has a method of communicating that catalyst to others. The church has a catalyst, a method, and something extra, for it is powered not by force of arms or human determination, but by an indestructible life; the Holy Spirit. Our catalyst is fairly obvious; it is the Gospel. Our method should also be obvious; we make disciples by sharing what we have received from our Lord in our personal relationships with Him with others in our relationships with them. All of this is done by the Holy Spirit in and through us. Thus, we can say that the movement that is the Body of Christ is the movement of the Holy Spirit as He works in and through each of us.
You need not be a rocket scientist to see that an institutionalized church can make this difficult to accomplish, particularly in an institutional environment that only wants the “professionals” to share. Likewise, if we have been influenced with a high priority on how we “do church” once we reach the point, as we inevitably will, where “doing church” gets off track or obsolete, we can never recover, for recovery isn’t how we have always done things.
So, what do we need to set the Church Free?
We need relationships, both with Him and with each other. These interacting relationship result in community, and that Community is the Body of Christ.