The Church looks and operates a lot differently than when it first started, but is that a bad thing? Today, we are obsessed with excessive consumerism, celebrity gossip and the latest technology. In the end, these things are empty. We turn to spirituality for meaning in our lives. Unfortunately, many have become disillusioned with organized religion and the institution called the Church. If we want to reach these people then the Church must change.
Some are opposed to instituting change in the Church. Traditionalism can cause archaic customs to become hallowed rituals. Not everything old is sacred. The Church is not an organization. It is a living organism, the body of Christ. Every life form must adapt to its environment or die. This is a fact of nature. Therefore, change is essential for survival. The Church must change, but at the same time, it needs to stay true to its essence.
An Authentic Church is a Reflection of God
In the beginning, God created humans in His image and after His likeness. After the fall of humanity, we started to mirror the sin within us, instead of God. The apostle Paul stated, “we all [the Church], with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” In order to reflect God, we must first know Him. This entails spending time with Him by reading His Word, meditating on it and obeying it.
An Authentic Church Follows Jesus
The physical representation of Jesus is no longer here and the spiritual entity is invisible to the human eye. We must remember Jesus is the Word made flesh. (John 1:14) In other words, He is the physical representation of the Word of God. Therefore, following Jesus is simply following the Word.
Although it is imperative that we follow the Word, if we obey the commandments without understanding them, we will become ritualistic, rigid and cold. This does not reflect God, which is why Solomon said, “The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4:7)
An Authentic Church Loves Unconditionally
Jesus gave us one commandment, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) He stated, love fulfills or satisfies the Law. He took it a step further saying, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) This directive is counterintuitive to human nature. So much so, we seldom follow this ordinance wholly. Is Jesus asking us to be pacifist? No one wants to be a doormat. Conventional wisdom tells us nice guys finish last.
We must understand the purpose of God’s commandments is not to restrict us, but to put us in the position to receive the fullness of His blessings. There is one fundamental law that governs the world. It is the law of reciprocity. Every living thing on the planet adheres to the law of sowing and reaping, without exception. If we repay people an eye for an eye, we will reap some unwanted consequences in our lives due to cause and effect. This is why Jesus tells us to love, bless and pray for those who do us wrong. Without understanding the reason for the commandment, how many of us will actually love our enemies unconditionally?
An Authentic Church Proclaims the Gospel
The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel to every living soul. The word gospel means good news. Even so, some preach fire and brimstone. Telling people that they are going to hell, if they do not believe as you do is not good news. This is why we need a real understanding of God and His Word. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46) The good news is Jesus Christ has given us the Kingdom without cost.
We are supposed to compel people to come to the house of the Lord. We cannot force people to come to God. To compel means to overcome people’s unwillingness by presenting them with an irresistible force. The Holy Spirit is the power that will compel people. This is the work of the Lord. Our job is to be witnesses of the Gospel. How can we serve as evidence or proof of the good news if we do not love, follow and reflect God? As they say, “The proof is in the pudding.”
An Authentic Church Transforms Self
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) The power of the Holy Ghost must first work in us, before we can compel others with the Gospel. Any group you belong to exerts a certain amount of peer pressure. The Church is no exception. This pressure causes Christians to adapt to the acceptable norms of their religion, without actually transforming their character.
Transformation takes time and effort. Conversely, we can conform almost instantly. We are good at it because we have been doing it since childhood. Unfortunately, that is not real change. By conforming, we are only hiding our true tendencies in order to be accepted. Only the Word through the Spirit of God can transform our minds. There is no shortcut. We must read, meditate, understand and of course obey the scriptures. It is the power of God unto salvation.
An Authentic Church is an Agent for Positive Change
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) If we transform our minds, we will automatically perform acts of charity. This is because our character will start to reflect God’s. Do we know what the character of God looks like? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Likewise, the love of God compels us to give of ourselves sacrificially, for the world.
Recently we had one of the deadliest mass shootings in America take place in Orlando, Florida. The authentic Church will go beyond just words of prayer and remembrance. The real Church will do whatever is necessary to comfort the many hurting souls that have lost loved ones. It will give of its time and money. It will lend its voice to denounce hatred and violence in all forms, towards all people. The authentic Church will reflect God by loving unconditionally.
This is by no means an exhaustive or definitive list of what makes an authentic Church, but I believe it covers the basic criteria. Being authentic is not about brick and mortar churches versus online ones. Your style of praise, worship and preaching is a matter of individual taste. We will only become authentic by returning to our true form, the image and likeness of God. Is your Church authentic? If not, are you?
Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)
“How to Live the Abundant Life” Robert R. Davis
Robert R. Davis is an ordained minister, author, teacher and software developer. He has a deep passion for understanding the meaning behind the commands and precepts of the Bible. He has written five books to date. His latest work is titled, “In the Beginning: The Truth Behind Genesis.”