The other day I posed the question: Why do we do church? What’s the point? Why do we keep gathering together week after week? What exactly is it supposed to accomplish?
At the hazard of being presumptuous, I’d like to offer my small attempt at an answer. From my perspective, the purpose of church is this: to change a life.
Now, I know that has every chance of sounding very trite and cliché, but for me it hits to the heart of what’s often missing in church. If we claim to be Christian, there should be some discernible difference in our lives.
And that difference isn’t just social. It’s not just an outward difference in our circumstances. Salvation isn’t just having more food on the table, a better roof over our head, or more money in the bank. Not that there is anything wrong with those things. But salvation is more than that.
Likewise, being Christian is more than just being nice and not having a criminal record. Niceness isn’t enough. Holiness isn’t just about being generally good.
There’s a substantive moral improvement that’s hard to put our finger on, but we all know it when we see it. Holy, loving, peaceful, patient, joyful, merciful. These are qualities that you just can’t fake. Anger and impatience will eventually show through.
And when those qualities are there, that’s when we as Christians start to reach out to help those around us. Unselfish service typically comes after the internal change, seldom before it. We may try to serve others while seeking that internal transformation, but that kind of love-in-action is really only most fulfilling when God’s love is fully present in us.
So, if that’s the case, then everything we do as a church ought to be about helping people come into contact with God’s life-changing grace to the extent that their lives really are changed and they truly live differently. Outwardly and inwardly.
I may be missing something, but that seems to have been the heart of the New Testament church. And it seems to be what made John Wesley’s Methodist movement so compelling. People’s lives were changed. That person who was always so mean and spiteful is now smiling incessantly, annoyingly happy and whistling joyfully while they work: ‘What’s wrong with them! O, they’re Christian. That explains it.’
Does my church produce people like that? Does yours? Why not? What are we doing wrong? What have we missed? Yes, there is still sin in the world. But still, why aren’t we producing more saints? Or is Mother Teresa just an exception to the rule?