I attended an Easter service this year where the pastor implied that it didn’t really matter whether Jesus actually rose from the dead or not—it was the concept of resurrection that was the important thing. As someone who believes in a literal resurrection, I would say churches that take this theological position have some significant problems.
That said, what does matter in a church? As I looked around, I made some important observations:
- I saw a consistent message of love, acceptance, and inclusion.
- I saw a commitment to justice and caring for the poor.
- The people are consistently trying to engage with others, love, listen, serve, and connect.
- There is a strong people-orientation.
After Easter, I reflected on these observations.
- What is essential in a church?
- What makes a church a church? Is it correct doctrine? Is it an atmosphere of love? Is it a sense of mission and outreach? All three?
- How would those outside the faith identify what the true church looks like? By what criteria would they judge it?
Without having come to definitive answers to any of these questions, I found myself meditating on these passages from James 2:1-4, 14-18:
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. 3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, 4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? ….
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”