We live in an event driven culture. Each week we are presented with a lavish buffet of music, art, and sporting events, with a side dish of parties, programs, and festivals. As a result, many people describe the quality of their life in terms of how many events they attend. “Yes, we had a great weekend,” they say, “We went to 5 different events.” We are a culture who staggers from one event to the next in search of our next fix of adrenaline. Therefore, we have become a society of blurry-eyed watchers. The Puritan work ethic is replaced with a purely watch ethic.
This is seen in the rise of social media. People are preoccupied with watching what happens in other people’s lives. So, they breathlessly wait for the next notification to “ding” their phone. Time magazine reports that Americans check their phones 8 billion times a day. Psychology Today compares our obsession with social media to drug addiction. The gentle rush of pleasure the user gets from each new notification floods the brain with hormones and, before long, the user cannot physically or emotionally live without it.
Our “culture of watchers” is also seen in the rise of reality TV and media. Watching other people livestream their lives is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Over 50 million people subscribe to watch others play video games, make things, and yes, just eat dinner. It is easier to watch others live than do the messy business of living.
There are some troubling trends in these cultural characteristics. They tend to focus on self. That is why we spend so much money on stadiums and theaters. The event should be fun. Because, if you didn’t have a good time, you don’t go back, because the event is about you. In addition, our event watching culture is about comfort. Watching requires little participation. We can have “friends” on Facebook without the hard work of being a friend. We can go watch a sporting event without the pain of getting in shape.
Now to the point. Our culture of “event driven watchers” affects the way we understand the word “church.” Most people see “church” as an event you attend where you watch a performance that is intended to make you feel better.
So, churches are in a mad rush to make their worship events more exciting and convenient because, if the people are happy with your product, they will come back to your future events.
Then Jesus steps onto the scene and says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus defines His church very differently than our culture. It is not about self but about Him. It is not about our comfort but our cross. What the New Testament teaches about the church is uncomfortably counter-cultural.
Here is where it begins. The church is not an event; it is primarily a relationship. This is a concept the church in Corinth needed to learn because they had many of the same misunderstandings of the church that we do. Their “events” overshadowed the relationships that bind the church together.
Chiefly, the church is a relationship with God. Paul addressed 1 Corinthians to “the church of God,” those who “where called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:2,9). The church are people who belong to God and, therefore, have a genuine fellowship with Jesus as their Lord. That radically redefines church.
To be His church, you must belong to God. This relationship begins when we are “called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13-15), and we respond in faith-driven repentance and baptism. Our sins are removed so we can have fellowship with a holy God. This relationship deepens when we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2). Set apart from sin and dedicated to the purposes of God, God’s church are a saved and dedicated bunch.
This deeply affects our understanding of “church.” We are only the church if we intimately know the Lord. He saved us and changed us and we have dedicated our lives to serving His purpose. That means “church” is much more than something we do on Sundays at a certain place. In fact, most of what we do as a part of God’s church is done in our individual lives, because we belong to God.
Secondarily, the church is a relationship with other believers. When people attend events, they are not usually interested in developing deep relationships with their fellow attendees. They are there for themselves. Not so, the church. God’s church are a people who have a living relationship with fellow believers (1 Cor. 1:2).
In Corinth, some simply ignored those they worshipped with. They came in, took the Lord Supper and left, but were unconcerned about others (1 Cor. 11:17-ff). Paul tells them they should be as interconnected as a body, where each member serves a vital function for every other member (1 Cor. 12:27).
Other relationships in Corinth were splintered because of selfish arrogance (1 Cor. 3:3; 6:1-ff). So, Paul reminds them they are the “temple of God” and the Spirit of God sees how they treat one another (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
In our culture of watchers, it is not surprising that people do not develop active, meaningful relationships with other believers. But, remember, watching ultimately makes you flabby and useless! God did not save us to set us on the shelf. He gifted us to serve others. God’s church are not watchers, they are workers (1 Cor 14:12; Heb. 10:24-25).
The Church Is the Gospel in Action!
Ultimately, the church is an illustration of the gospel. The gospel is the account of how a holy God desired to have a relationship with sinful, fragile people like us. So, God chose to participate in our humanity to have fellowship with us.
Now He asks us to set aside our comforts and participate in the lives of others (even those who don’t deserve it) so we can have a relationship with each other and with God.
Don’t let culture define “church.” Let the gospel do it!