Last night I was impressed with the topic at our Thursday night group. "What is church?" Wow, you get all kinds of answers. It is a place of redemption, love, hope, "not a building", people, institution.. and the list goes on. I guess I would ask the inverse, what is the church expected to be that it is not? Well, it is not a building, not a social club, not a political machine... I am sure you can think of some others.
If we look at church history, and we should. We'll see that the 1st century church was comprised of communal living and small home churches with occasional services held in synagogues. In truth the persecution of the early church caused it to be primarily underground in many respects.... or the parishioners would be stoned to death, fed to the lions, forced to burn to death on an iron chair over hot coals... it was ugly, very ugly. So, why did the early Christians claim faith in the face of torture and death? I would say because church was not a building, not a social club or a political vehicle. It must have been something of great value, or no one would have given their life for it. Actually I have read accounts where the joy of those facing the lions was so great that the onlookers would actually give the lives up to have what they saw in the faces of those facing death. You can read more about it here.
To get right to the point. The "true" church is a living, breathing, spiritual organism that most often manifests itself through human vessels, while being an eternal entity in its own right; an extension of God the creator Himself... it is a the Kingdom of all kingdoms. Most Christians are aware of the kingdom that will come, but there is also the kingdom that is at hand. So it has been taught, it is now and not yet. Salvation has come in the death of Jesus, one gets saved by faith and will be saved on the last day. To use a simple analogy, it is like a trust fund where we get a check, and we get subsequent checks, but we are entitled to it all at age 18. In this case we get it all at death, or so it seems that way. I can't imagine that a day in eternity will be all that boring.
If the point is that the church is for real, now and not yet, then what value does it have to the average guy or gal on the street? I think that is a tough question. Are we to be seeker-friendly or militant; humble and quiet or bold and relentless for the things of the Kingdom? Another tough question. Here is what I think we need to do. I think that we need to be so in love with Jesus that we only do what we see Him doing wherever we are. What does that look like? It looks like we are acting on faith and showing love. Then there will be times when others want what we have, even in the face of torture and death.