Part 1 of this Series on Church is available here
We started this series on the Role of the Church with a discussion of what it means to be still while God fights on our behalf. But while we are called to be still before God, that doesn’t mean the Church is called to be idle or stagnant in the world. As we’ve talked about over the last few weeks, the Church has a lot of roles that it’s important that we fill.
So how does the Church determine what roles she is supposed to fill, and when she is overstepping her boundaries?
It makes sense to end our conversation on Church in the same place that it started – Let’s go back to the Exodus story.
In Exodus 13:21, shortly before calling the Israelites to be still, God sends pillars of cloud and fire to lead the Israelites out of the land of Egypt. He puts these great symbols in front of them as markers on the journey, as if to say, “You will go this way, and the Lord will go ahead of you.”
The only problem is that, according to beginning of Exodus 14, the pillars lead the Israelites in circles until Pharaoh decides to chase after them again. The pillars don’t lead straight out of Egypt. They lead a confused and wandering path that eventually winds up trapping them between the Red Sea and the Army of Egypt. And just as the Israelites are in the throes of despair, God parts the waters and leads them straight through the Red Sea.
Really, everything about the Exodus from Egypt, from the 10 plagues to the parting of the Red Sea, depended on the work of God in the weakness of the Hebrew people. The Exodus story unfolded in a way that allows for the Hebrew people to escape from Egypt without having done any of the work themselves. But even though God does all of the heavy lifting, the Israelites still have to choose to follow God out of Egypt.
Even though nobody could possibly read the Exodus story and come away praising the power and ability of the Hebrew people, they could not escape from their slavery and oppression unless they made the decision to follow. Even though God split the waters of the Red Sea, the Israelites still had to walk across it to safety. And that’s all they had to do. Their only requirement was to follow, and they were led out of their bondage and into the presence of God. They join God in a covenant that will forever identify them as the people of God.
They follow the pillar into the presence of God, and there they find life.
You get a similar story in Matthew 2. When Christ is born, some sages from the East see a new star in the sky and they follow it, because they just have to see where it leads. And when they arrive, they find that it’s the star of Christ, and they rejoice! They bring gifts. They worship. They praise God that the star has led them to this Christ.
They follow the star into the presence of God, and there they find life.
But there are no pillars today, are there? There are no great stars in the sky saying, “Come this way!” So how does the Church find her way? How is the Church supposed to know where God is calling her to be? How can we follow God without an indication of where God is moving?
And that’s where we get to the most important reason for the Church – The Incarnation of God in the Person of Christ.
The person of Christ becomes the pillar of fire leading us out of our slavery and bondage to sin. God as a man becomes the Star in the East that guides the Church on our Journey. If the Church wants to find life, she has to follow the pillars and the stars that God has provided for her. She has to choose to follow the Christ that gives her meaning. She has to go where Christ went. She has to live as Christ lived. She has to serve as Christ served.
But it seems like we complicate that. It seems like we’re very good at rationalizing why we don’t have to follow Christ everywhere he goes. We’re all willing to follow the pillar of fire away from Egypt, but we’re not so thrilled about the whole wandering in circles in the wilderness thing. We all want to follow Christ out of our sin, but we’re not so interested in following him into discomfort and sacrifice.
But if Christ is the foundation of the Church, and the pillar of fire for the Church to follow, then that means the Church belongs in the places he went. It is the role of the Church to meet Christ where he already is. It’s the job of the Church to follow the pillar of fire into any circumstance and to do what Christ does. He does all the work, but the Church still has to follow.
So if we want to talk about what the role of the Church is in the world, it’s to follow Christ. To do what Christ does. To walk where Christ walks. To love who Christ loves. And the best way to do that, is to look at where we see Christ spending his time and his energy, and to join him in that.
If the Church is going to follow Christ out of our bondage and into life, she will live how Christ lived.
She will take care of the poor. She will feed the hungry and heal the sick.
She will eat meals with outcasts and spend time with evildoers. She will protect the people whom the world seeks to harm (even when they may deserve that harm).
She will teach the world a better way to live, and she will model that lifestyle, even if she harassed or persecuted for doing so.
She will call the rich from their possessions, and the influential from their power.
She will tell stories. She will teach.
She will travel around the world with the message of the Gospel. She will find times of rest in the presence of God.
She will upset the religious order. She will abandon the status quo.
She will be harassed and persecuted. She will be betrayed.
She will follow Christ all the way to the cross, and she will join him in his suffering and death.
And there she will find life.