I recall a conversation while staying at the SIM Guest House in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A visitor from California was talking about the church he attended, the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, where Chuck Swindoll had once pastored. He noted dourly that visitors to EV Free were still referring to it as “Swindoll’s church.” Pastor Chuck had not been there for many years, he reminded me.
Newsflash! EV Free was never “Swindoll’s church,” and I am sure Pastor Chuck would be the first to admit that.
How unthinkingly we use such language! I attend “MacArthur’s church,” or I go to “Lutzer’s church,” or I visited “David Jeremiah’s church,” we say. But the church of Jesus Christ belongs to none of these fine men.
Please notice how Paul addresses the church at Corinth in his opening greeting: “to the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). Paul does not talk of “my church,” but of “the church of God.” This phrase aptly summarizes Paul’s concept of the local church. His 18-month stay in Corinth (longer than anywhere he had visited except for Ephesus) might have justified him referring to the church as “his” church. The Lord Jesus had given him a significant ministry during this period as he spent time “teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). The believers there were to Paul “the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:2). Yet he refrains from calling the Corinthian church “his” congregation, for he rightfully saw that all he had accomplished there was the work of God through a weak but yielded vessel.
How often we speak too loosely of “my church” or “our church”! Paul’s expression “the church of God” provides us with a healthy corrective. No individual Christian or group of Christians has any special claim upon a local assembly. Christianity today is full of cliques, each following a different personality. There is a distinct lack of humility and of consideration for others. Personality-cults have emerged that would have made the divided Corinthians blush.
When a Christian, or a group of Christians, becomes absorbed with following a particular leader, nothing but false loyalty has been achieved. There is probably no church with any history behind it that has not taken its eyes off of Jesus at one time or another. Often this assumes the form of hearkening back to “the good old days” when pastor so-and-so was there. Genuine appreciation of leadership can often give way to a very self-centered pride.
It needs to be said that much division in our churches today arises because the eyes of Christians are elsewhere than on Jesus Christ. “My” church, like “your” church, belongs to God, not to you or to me or to any other man. If that is true, perhaps we would do well to follow Paul’s example in 1 Cor. 1:2 and, at least from time to time, unblushingly refer to our assembly as “God’s church.”
August 12, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.