Whose Church Is It Anyway?

I was once invited to give my testimony at two Sunday services in a well-known church. The practice there was to videotape both services, and then release the better tape for broadcast. That's when I discovered that the decision about what makes a "good" service reveals some deeply mistaken beliefs about the church. During the first service that Sunday morning something happened that can be explained only as an anointing of the Spirit. I lost all track of time--yet somehow finished exactly when the cue card was raised telling me my time was up. As I closed in prayer, people were actually kneeling at their pews, tears streaming down their faces. A holy hush fell over the congregation. Later, when the second service was about to begin, the pastor--who I'll call Dr. Showforth--was coached by his assistant. This service, the assistant said, Dr. Showforth ought to step up beside me during the closing prayer, put his arm around my shoulder, and beckon people forward to the altar. But the second service was nothing like the first. Aware that I was expected to repeat the performance, I was self-conscious, watching the clock. As I closed in prayer, the pastor stepped up next to me and gestured dramatically toward the congregation. Nothing happened. The whole thing was too obviously staged. Later I urged the assistant to use the first tape for the broadcast. "No, no," he insisted. "The second tape was much better, with Dr. Showforth in the picture." I pressed the point; he continued to resist. Finally he raised his hand, like a cop holding back traffic. "You don't seem to understand, Mr. Colson," he said. "This is Dr. Showforth's church." Whose church? How often have you heard a pastor or a board of elders or deacons refer to "my church" or "our church"? Most congregational squabbles arise over precisely this point: Who should make the decisions? Who should wield authority? Whose church is it anyway? Jesus answered that question decisively when He said in the book of Matthew, "On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The church is not my church or your church--it is the church of Jesus Christ. How easily we are impressed with ourselves and our own inflated importance. How foolishly we seek our identity in offices or positions within the church. Yet where were we when God created His church? If it were our church or ministry, we'd fall miserably short. Are you and I the instruments for making disciples, for making men and women holy, for the redemption of mankind? How absurd. Jesus said "I will build My church"--and with those words He laid proprietary claim to the church. We don't make the ultimate decisions about how the church is defined, or what its mission is. God does. "I will build My church." Those words should be posted over the entrance to every church building in the land.


Chuck Colson



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