Editorial

Doing Church

By

When the film The Preacher’s Wife was in production, several scenes involved a lively gospel choir singing songs of praise and worship in a packed sanctuary. Director Penny Marshall recalled that when she yelled “cut,” she was often ignored. “We’re doing church!” the singers and actors explained. Marshall was invited to continue filming but not to interrupt while the Spirit was moving.

“We’re doing church!” Does that phrase make your heart skip with joy or just skip a beat? Is doing church, in your experience, an exuberant expression of the Spirit? Or is it a task to be performed like a weekly chore? Does ministry in your church flow from the heart of God to the hands of His servants? Or is it difficult to tell the difference between your congregation and any other CEO/corporate board–driven business?

In every area of human endeavor, there is an ideal and there is reality. In any given month, most churches in North America could answer yes to all of the questions in the previous paragraph, depending on who was asked and in which week. That’s the reality of life in the Body of Christ.

In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5, Jesus instructed a large group of followers about the difference between doing and being in the Kingdom of God. What He described as righteous living looked very different from what their previous leaders had passed along as their interpretation of Moses’ instruction (Torah in Hebrew). “You have heard that it was said,” Jesus would say as He reiterated the Pharisees’ teaching. He then prefaced His correction of the doctrine with the phrase, “But I tell you . . .”: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that whoever looks at a woman lustfully [“with a view to desire”] has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (vv. 27–28). “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (vv. 43–44).

It was this comparison and its contrasting remedy that makes Jesus’ words in verses 17 through 20 understandable; Jesus’ intent was to make devotion to God a matter of the heart rather than the feat of will described by the teachers of the Law. In doing so, He was clarifying the Lord’s Word to His people as recorded in the Prophets. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” Hosea told the Israelites (Hosea 6:6). Jesus was reminding them (and us) what discipleship means; He’s telling them how to be Church, not just how to do it.

Alliance leadership often wrestles with how the face of discipleship within the denomination is recognizable. Most humans have eyes, a nose and lips; the variations of these features help to shape us as individuals. Similarly, in The Alliance, seven Core Values have been identified that should result from living our call together under the leadership of the Spirit—though how they are expressed in different ministry contexts may vary. Several of those values can be found in the stories we have collected for this issue: Lost people matter to God. He wants them found (“No Matter the Cost,” p.10). Prayer is the primary work of God’s people (“Until Jesus Comes,” p. 14). Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully devoted disciple (“GC Sunday,” p. 17). Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish nothing (“The Rich Young Ruler Revisited,” p. 18). Everything we have belongs to God. We are His stewards (“Cash Cow,” p. 20). And Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success (“Something’s Brewing at Guido’s,” p. 6).

In The Divine Conspiracy, theologian and philosopher Dallas Willard imagines Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount while walking through the crowd of people, some seated, others standing, and lovingly calling out each person’s heart: “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . ,” “Blessed are the meek . . . ,” “Blessed are those who mourn . . .” Our Kingdom today looks very similar to that hillside in Judea. Every week the peacemakers, the poor, the zealots, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted (and, if we are quite frank with ourselves, the persecutors) gather to “do Church.” When the service is finished, we go our separate ways; the Body of Christ is broken to go out into the world to serve the Lord.

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