What makes the church the church in contrast to any other group of people who are brought together around a common cause or idea?
To answer this question we need to begin by considering what St. Paul said about the church being the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 God’s Word describes membership in the church as an organic relationship; that each member of the church is part of the whole body and that all parts are interdependent, unable to exist apart from each other. This is quite different than being part of a baseball team or even a family.
The church is not a voluntary association of people who come and go whenever they like or pick and choose what they like. Instead, God places us into the church which is Christ’s body. The Holy Spirit grafts us into a living community of members held together by Christ who is the head of the body.
Each of us are members of that body. If I am a thumb in that body the wiggling of that thumb is dependent upon all the parts that connect it to the rest of the body, from nerves to blood to muscles to organs. However, the wiggling of a thumb originates in the head where all action is controlled and all parts are held together.
Therefore, our relationship to Christ, the head of the body (the church) is not separated from our relationship to the members of the body. If I were to cut my thumb off it would cease to have relationship to my head and to the rest of my body, but as long as my thumb is attached it is in an intimate relationship with all the other parts. It doesn’t choose to do what it wants or even to go join another body. It is connected.
A Christian’s connection to Christ is a connection to every other member of Christ’s body and this is made real in the local church where members can see the very people they are in relationship with.
Now we like to speak about our “personal” relationship with Christ and this is important, but not at the expense of the relationship Christ has placed us into with other believers in a particular congregation.
What makes the church the church is the relationship Christ has with a body of believers who have been called and gathered together into a particular community.
Trinity ELC is the community Christ has placed me and many other believers. It is said that you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. If your a member of Trinity ELC or any other congregation, these are the people whom God has placed you in relationship with and to whom God has called you to be His body.
If you are baptized, but not part of a congregation I would encourage you to become connected rather than disconnected and disengaged. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a member of a local church – the local expression of Christ’s body extending throughout time and around the world.