The Church with a Capital “C”
Christian life is not just our own private affair.
If we have been born again into God’s family, not
only has he become our Father but every other
Christian believer in the world, whatever his nation
or denomination, has become our brother or sister in
Christ. [B]ut it is no good supposing that membership
in the universal Church of Christ is enough;
we must belong to some local branch of it…. Every
Christian’s place is in a local church… sharing in
its worship, its fellowship, and its witness.
— JOHN STOTT, Basic Christianity
I became interested in the subject of the Church, and going to church, because I had friends who were between churches. They called themselves “non-churchgoing” Christians. These friends said they had better things to do on Sunday morning than attend church. Indeed, with so many demands on our already limited time, why should we spend a perfectly good Sunday morning going to church? It’s vital to remember that we use the word church in two ways—the Church with the capital “C” and the church with the small “c.” All believers in Jesus Christ, all born-again Christians, are members of the worldwide Church with the capital C. The local congregation is the church with the lower case c. The church with the little c has left us with negative thoughts about church. Most feelings of alienation and disconnection appear when we are trying to find a local church home to settle into. The key words that define church are connecting and belonging. We long to belong and feel connected.
Jesus personally invited people to come into the Church through a relationship with him. Our assurance that we are related to Jesus Christ and he loves us, that God is our Father and we are his children, is what binds us together as the body of Christ,” for we are members of his body,” Ephesians 5:30. Belonging to that family, with a capital C, makes us feel comfortable to be part of any church family that really is part of that great body of Christ.
While attending churches in faraway places like Turkey or India, I have been overcome emotionally because of the connectedness I felt with believers whose language I couldn’t even speak.They didn’t look like me and didn’t worship like me, but we were united as part of the big Church with the capital C, the body of Christ.
In some places and under some circumstances, however, people can be stinky. Leadership can be less than godly. In unhealthy situations, unbiblical forms of dictatorial leadership can exist. In toxic situations, people can lose their ability to reason, to walk before God as individuals, and to exercise their own freedom in Jesus Christ. But that should be the exception rather than the rule.
The disconnect we feel when making the decision to unite with a little c chapter of the body of Christ does not come because of details like the way we sing, the way we sit, or the pitch of the pastor’s voice. It goes back to how connected we are with Jesus Christ himself.
The church with the small c consists of a percentage of people who have no assurance of a clinching experience in which they came to Jesus for rest and forgiveness. Each of us must come to Jesus, who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).We are desperately needy sinners—desperately in need of a Savior! Until we truly connect to the Savior, our connection to a local group of Christians will not be complete.
“Come to Me”
People are stressed, alienated, isolated, and uncomfortable most of the time. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew -30).
Jesus described us as
“weary and burdened.” Our international ministry, the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association,
once conducted a survey in the
Most of us would offer to change places with them any day. Yet the young middle class women said they felt exhausted, confused about too many choices, and burned out. Not weary and burdened like people in other parts of the world who scrape to get enough food to eat, for sure. But they are weary and burdened with their busy lives, struggling to balance the need for solitude, personal fulfillment, and dealing with the overwhelming
needs of others.
Exhausted people are characterized by ceaseless activity that doesn’t get us any closer to the Kingdom, any closer to knowing Jesus better, or even any closer to getting our house clean. The rest of the world laughs at us restless Americans because we are constantly changing and never settled. What is here today is gone tomorrow, and the church reflects those trends.
Sometimes we are weary and burdened by unrealistic standards, fearful of being considered failures. Listen to this paraphrase of Matthew 11:28:“Are you tired, worn out, burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you will recover your life. I will show you how to take real rest. Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I will not lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and we will learn to live freely and lightly” (The Message).
“I Will Give You Rest”
Jesus Christ does not call us to attend another class or program, but to come directly to him. We have a choice between rest and stress. We all know the meaning of stress. Come to Jesus the Counselor for understanding, to Jesus the Mighty God for comfort, to Jesus the Prince of Peace for rest because he is the only one who truly meets all our needs.
I have never found anyone eager to sit around and listen to me whine about the uniqueness of my life. Have you ever shared your intense struggle only to have your listener respond, “That’s nothing,” and proceed to best your story with one of his or her own? Instead, the apostle Paul tells us, “each one should carry his own load” (Galatians 6:5).
People can only empathize so far. Jesus said come daily to him for the issues that steal our rest—guilt, sin, frustration—and for all the things that define who we really are. If we find two or three friends in a lifetime that catch segments of who we are, we thank the Lord for them. Accepting people for what they bring into our life, we cannot expect them to understand us perfectly. The only one who understands perfectly is the one who made you and me. That goes for churches, too. It is fruitless to expect from fellow human beings the love, acceptance, and forgiveness that only God can give.
Jesus said, “I will give you rest,” and he meant eternal rest. Nothing else matters except this: that our relationship with him is settled. When you have that kind of rest, you will move into the church with the little c and feel comfortable. If you are not settled in heaven as a home, you will not feel settled in any earthly relationships.
The rest Jesus promises is a sense of being refreshed and alive and quieted on the inside. Ultimate rest is forgiveness for my soul. It is settled once at the foot of the cross where Jesus paid for my sins and shortcomings and is reaffirmed on a daily basis. Eternal rest means knowing that heaven is my home so, whatever happens to me here, I’m okay and I can live with it. Nothing can separate me from God’s love.
“My Yoke Is Easy and
My Burden Is Light”
The yoke is an opportunity to willingly join Jesus in a personal tutor/learner relationship. If something is bothering me when I’m yoked up close, I only have to turn my head to see Jesus. Then I remember that Jesus is where I go for guidance.
As God’s children, we are free to ask why. God is always willing to offer guidance. Circumstances are not always easy; relationships are sometimes complex. Your status and acceptance by God is about you; it is not about all the people around you. You do not have to compete with the world. God forgives you, loves you, accepts you, and changes you so that you can relax while yoked to him. When Jesus is in you, the Holy Spirit is your teacher. It works!
We often design our own yokes of leadership, volunteering, and other self-inflicted punishments. Neither easy nor light, self-designed yokes are crushing. Anytime our focus is not on Jesus, but on those around us, we’re headed straight to burnout.
Instead, we need to carefully manage our time and stay within our areas of God-given gifting. God created you and me, he planned our life, and he knows what comes naturally to each of us. We keep first things first by carving out pockets of time for reflection, to think things through, to wait and be still, and to test what we hear through Scripture. When we are yoked to Jesus Christ, the burden is his—he carries it for us.
“And you shall find rest for your souls” refers to our daily experience of coming constantly to commit, confess, and restore our communion with him. Rest for our souls brings eternal life because of the perfect work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Rest for our souls frees our conscience from guilt. We come once for cleansing from sin and daily for renewed relationship.
Jesus’ description of himself as “gentle and humble in heart” doesn’t apply to some of the churches we’ve been in. That’s why we always look to him. Anytime we fix our eyes on people, we will be disappointed.
The leadership of Jesus Christ is not characterized by rules, harshness, or demands without sense or reason. There is no “because I said so, that’s why!” Yoked to Jesus, we can hear his quiet voice guiding us. Dr. Haddon Robinson from Gordon-Conwell Seminary once said, “I learned that God loved me just as I was... but too much to leave me that way.” Whatever God asks us to do, he equips us to do.
Why Belong to a
We join a church because we all have the same heavenly Father, we are a family, and a family treats each other well. In my own household, I don’t suddenly ask two of my immediate family members to continue living with me and tell the rest to go live somewhere else.
It might have crossed my mind, but I don’t do that because they are born into my family. In the same way, we are all born into God’s family and, one way or the other, we need to learn to live together. The reasoning that says “I am the Church because I belong to Jesus Christ, so I don’t need to attend a local church” bothers me. “Wherever I am, that’s church” sounds cool, but it’s wrong. True, I’m away from my home church often, but if I’m at home, I’m there. God doesn’t keep score, but Scripture commands us to regularly get together in some form or another for our own sake and for the sake of other believers (Hebrews ).
It’s amazing how devious our minds are. I can think of many reasons not to attend church: “I’ve been around a lot of Christians this week, I’ve heard a lot of messages, I’ve sung a lot of songs, so what’s the big deal?
Why do I need to go to church on this particular day?”
Still, I need to go to church because everybody else is going and I belong to and am connected to them. Regular worship in the company of other believers sets my spiritual compass and takes my spiritual temperature. All week you and I see things materialistically, humanly, as if “that’s all there is. “Worship pulls back the curtains so I can see the real picture about God, the universe, and my place in it. Attending church is the best way for me to grow and develop my spiritual gifts. I cannot grow in isolation. I need to hear voices other than my own.
When we experience troubles, other Christians will help—if they know us. If you ever are going to get sick or die, you better be in a church that knows you because otherwise nobody is going to comfort you or plan your funeral. I have a friend who likes a television preacher who has more charm and zip than the pastor of the church that I attend, but that television personality is not going to conduct her funeral!
When we belong to the body of Christ, we get into a church family and live with it through thick and thin, year after year after year. Being thirty or forty years in the same place teaches me about families and how God is making them better and better. When someone asks me, “What about the Smiths and the Lees?” I say, “I’ve known them since their parents were kids and you can’t believe how much better they function now than they used to a long time ago.”
Seeing the slow, imperceptible growth in families and in myself is the wonderful side of being in a church for a long time. I know people better. The church with the little c is a laboratory where we test things out, we learn to do things, and people give us a chance. All kinds of opportunities arise where I can learn and serve in a local church that wants me to grow.
I can sincerely say good things about most of the churches I know anything about. True, all churches have ups and downs. None of us do well with change and change is a frequent catalyst for discomfort in the church. But I can weather it if what holds me together with others is the absolute assurance that I am God’s child.
When I was in my thirties I remember telling an elder in our church that I wasn’t happy. I didn’t feel comfortable. I wasn’t appreciated. There were a lot of changes going on. He patted my shoulder and said I would feel better eventually. He did not revamp everything the way I wanted it. How glad I am that I stayed! The issues are long since forgotten.
Connecting and Belonging
I know what it’s like not to feel quite at home. I don’t like it when I enter a group and there are asides, humor, or nicknames and everyone laughs except me because I don’t have any idea what they are talking about. Often people make announcements about upcoming events using the initials of the group, and I don’t know if it is a program that pertains to me or not.
A healthy church is considerate of those working to develop a sense of belonging. For my part, the better I understand who I am as a member of the body of Christ—the big C Church—the better I can laugh off the awkward moments and know that one of these days I will feel comfortable. My feelings are not as important as simply making a prayerful commitment that this is where I’m going to settle and grow. I grow as I push myself to go where I don’t want to go and do things that are not in my comfort zone. Slowly I begin to feel at home.
There is a difference between being at home and feeling at home. The church is your home even though it may not feel like it for a long time. One day you will realize you have settled in and feel comfortable.
People in the church are not perfect. Jesus said,“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew ).When you bounce from church to church, everybody appears godly and perfect.You aren’t there long enough to know there is another side. You don’t know reality. The church is an asset, a tool, a community, a fellowship, and a place where we ought to be.
A great church majors in helping people know Jesus Christ and grow in their relationship with him. Unfortunately, we humans don’t balance things well. A church that is good at evangelism often isn’t good at growing the baby Christians they have birthed. I also know a church where they have an evangelistic service every Sunday night, but there hasn’t been a non-Christian there in probably thirty years. They preach the same message every Sunday night, but only because it’s a habit and it’s beyond questioning.
A great church values God’s Word, consistently puts out the Scripture for us to look at, allows us to ask questions, and lets the Word speak for itself. Together we bring glory to God through worship, fellowship, community, evangelism, prayer, Bible study, Christian education, and outreach. Through these activities, we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews ).
A great church has leaders who demonstrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit for leading the community of believers. But the Bible does not place a higher value on those who lead than on those who are led. All of us lead in some venue somewhere. We are both learners and leaders at the same time. We do both simultaneously.
The church is a grouping of people who are in the process—with the leading of the Holy Spirit—of equipping each one to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The goal of the church is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians ).
• It matters to God that I go to church. Jesus went to synagogue on the Sabbath and if ever a person had good reason not to go, he did! He went to teach and be a blessing, and to set an example of what you and I should do.
• I go to church to celebrate Jesus. I explained this one Sunday morning to the whiners in the back of my station wagon. I go because it is the day of remembrance of his resurrection, and I don’t think one part of one day a week is too much to ask.
• I go to church because it matters to me. It matters to my family, who watch me. It does not mean that every time I come out of church I say, “Wow! That was fabulous.” But I’m always glad I went. It’s where I belong, and more times than not I have been blessed in many ways.
• It matters to me that I go to church because there I am surrounded by others who share the same spiritual journey.We help each other. I prayed that my children would grow up and marry fellow believers in Jesus Christ. I figured the best place for them to network with other young people who would be their friends was in a church where I had roots and they were happy.
• It matters to the community that I go to church. People look to the church as a place where they can go and receive comfort and encouragement. All kinds of people come to church when there is a tragedy. It matters to the community that the church is there.
• It matters to my health that I rest on Sunday.We have forgotten that.When I was growing up, people didn’t do anything that looked like work on Sundays. Businesses were closed. I try to resist things that steal my day of rest, but I’m drowning in a culture that wants to do everything all the time. I long for a simpler life, but today there are so many things I can do on Sundays. God designed a day of rest to relax, read, enjoy music, and converse with God and others. Taking an hour to sit still, to sing, and hear God’s Word is a great start.
• I go to church to focus on stillness. To grow spiritually, you and I can practice spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, Scripture memorization, fasting, and prayer. But we are not monks.We do not live where the phone doesn’t ring, and these disciplines are not practiced as much as they might be. Uniting with others challenges me to persevere in healthy spiritual disciplines.
• I come to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No church program is so awkward that it thwarts my experience of worshiping the Lord. Some people complain they don’t get anything out of church or it doesn’t meet their needs. In The Purpose-Driven Life,Rick Warren reminds us:
“If you have ever said, ‘I didn’t get anything out of worship today,’ you worshipped for the wrong reason.Worship isn’t for you. It’s for God.” I can worship God anywhere—even in church. Going to church and exercising my spiritual gifts in the midst of other Christians is a normal part of the spiritual service of worship God expects of me
• I go to church to bless others. I don’t have something special to say to everyone, but some people are blessed if I simply know their name, pat them on the shoulder, and recognize that they are there. Other times, our weekly gathering in Christ’s name sparks remarkable, even life-changing, conversations.
• I come to be obedient to God. Hebrews 10:24- 25 exhorts:“Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do, but spurring each other on especially as we see the big day coming” (The Message).