The prophet Habakkuk was encouraged by the Lord to billboard the vision. A clever double entendre, say the scholars – make it so plain that he who runs can read it, and so plain that he who reads it will run with it. Great wordplay. Great administration of vision. Let’s take a leaf from Habakkuk’s book and read the words of Jesus yet again.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).
No local church will ever perfectly represent the one, glorious, transcendent, eternal church that Jesus is building. But then again, neither does any individual believer perfectly represent Christ. We’re all witnesses to Him, but the treasure will always be in jars of clay, individually and corporately. That’s the way it all works because that’s the way He set things up. It makes His grace the hero, rather than our efforts.
Once we can see that city on a hill in the Spirit, faith for it arises in our hearts. And as with any vision that grip our hearts, the question is “where do we start?”
The answer to that question in terms of our individual witness is self-evident. We do who we are, living for Jesus from the heart. Authenticity is what gives the whole exercise credibility. Our lights then shine through words, works, ways and wonders, as we go about our daily lives, rubbing shoulders with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. We trust Holy Spirit to lead us, and when He does, we do what He tells us to do. It’s not in the least bit complicated. Even little children understand it.
It’s no less complicated for a local church. We are the “ekklessia”. The called out ones. The Greek carries nuance, and the word is as accurately translated “assembly” as “church”, depending on context. We witness to Christ by doing who we are. We are the church, and as such we gather in His Name. There is perfect congruence here. Christians are those who have taken Christ’s Name, and as the church, we congregate in it.
Of course the local church is a much more profound mystery than just a meeting. It is all at once body, building, army, vine, family, household, and more besides. Each and every local church is all of these things in measure, if none in fullness. Our completeness awaits in the age to come. But it does all start in the simplicity of gathering. In Him, to Him, with Him and for Him. Nothing complicated. No strings attached.
Ever since I can remember there has been talk about recapturing the glories of the early church. These conversations somehow seem to focus on God’s part of the deal – the awe, the great grace, the salvations, the miracles, the sacrificial living. Revisit the text and you’ll discover that our part is really simple. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Really simple Jesus-centered stuff, that requires little beyond showing up with open faith-filled hearts. What was the apostles teaching, if not the Gospel? What was the fellowship, if not those in Christ, gathering in partnership in His Name? The breaking of bread is a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and prayer is overt dependence on Him in all things. Hardly the makings of elite spirituality. When the early church gathered, it was all about Him!
Is it not amazing how much controversy surrounds church attendance? Could it be that much of the debate and baggage is there to distract and detract from simple fundamentals: I am in Christ. We are the church. Not either/or, but both/and.
It’s that little boy all over again. We show up, five loaves and two fish in hand. None of us has much to offer. Jesus is the one who shows up with the power and the plan. And it’s the Twelve all over again. We get to participate in His plan and benefit from His power. Loaves and fish multiply in our hands, and we get to gather up the leftovers. Through it all, He is glorified, we are edified, and the world is impacted. Along the way bricks become a building, soldiers an army, and bits and bobs of flesh and bone a body. He forges the partnerships, vertical and horizontal. We show up in with intent, hearts full of faith, and He does the rest. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden”.
Just imagine what yet shall be.
Yours in Christ Jesus.