My first formal lesson on the church was delivered by Mrs. Maggard, the preschool teacher in my home church. She taught our class a “finger play” with this simple story line: “Here’s the church (two hands folded with fingers intertwined and pointed inward), here’s the steeple (two forefingers raised and touching at the fingertips to form a steeple), open the doors (separate palms of hands with fingers still intertwined and turn palms upward so fingers are pointed upward), and see all the people (wiggle fingers to represent a church full of people).”
Years later someone corrected my doctrine by pointing out the church is not the place where God’s people gather, but rather the people themselves. I don’t think Mrs. Maggard was intentionally trying to mislead us. She simply wanted us to know the church and people go together.
It is possible you have just heard two things for the first time: the term “finger play” and the inherent nature of the church. You may never use the former, but if you follow Christ, I feel certain you will need the latter. There is no such thing as a church without people, or more specifically those who have been redeemed by Christ.
Relationships are formative and fundamental to the church. We use the word “community” to describe the dynamic of believers doing life together. The process of community building is not an easy one, but once we witness Christians functioning as one, we understand God’s divine genius.
During His earthly ministry Jesus cast the vision for a church that radiates His love to the world as its members love one another. He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Later Jesus prayed on behalf of His disciples: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). These words only make sense when we see the church as a single entity made up of many parts, with each part devoted to a single mission.
I have never heard of a church with perfect unity, nor would I expect to find one on earth. Yet, what makes Christ’s Bride attractive is not perfection, but rather her desire to provide a place where relationships are bound with grace.