By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda
The COVID-19 situation has introduced us to new terminologies such as “essential services.” Of course, it is the government that determines what the essential services are. Currently there is debate in our country whether churches should be reopened or remain closed. This begs the question whether church is among the essential services or not. So, is church essential? Why does it matter? For us to answer the question, we need to first define what church is. Also, we need to ask why the church is essential.
What is Church?
When many people talk about church they are thinking of either buildings or denominations. Therefore, you hear people talk about “my church” or so and so’s church. But the Biblical idea of church is different. Church is neither a building nor a denomination. Let us look at what Jesus says about the church. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells Peter that “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Jesus tells us that the church is His. He says, “I will build my church.” This is a very important revelation. So, the church is not a human idea, or something that belongs to the state or to a certain institution. Nothing will stand in the way of the church and prevail. “The gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Gates are barriers; something that are to hinder progress. The church of Christ is dynamic and triumphant. Nothing will stop it from advancing the kingdom of God.
The church belongs to Christ. In Ephesians 1:22-23, the Bible tells us that “God placed all things under [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” In Ephesians 5:25-27 we see that Christ’s love for the church is the model of how husbands are to love their wives. Husbands are commanded to love their wives, “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Christ loves and cherishes the church as His own bride.
As we can see from the above scriptures, the church is inseparably connected to Christ. When one persecutes the church, they are persecuting Christ. Do you remember the story of Saul (or Paul) of Tarsus before he became a believer in Jesus Christ?
Let’s turn to Acts 9:1-5: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. Paul thought that he was persecuting errant heretics who had deserted the Jewish faith. He did not know that by persecuting Christ’s followers, he was persecuting Christ Himself.
Therefore, according to the Word of God, the church is not a building or an institution. It is not a human creation. It is not a personal enterprise. It belongs to Christ. It is His Body. It is His bride. It is a community of all those who have believed in Jesus Christ as their savior. Church is about people and not buildings. Church buildings can and may be closed but the church of Christ can never be closed. Nothing will stand in the way of the church and prevail.
Is the Church Essential?
The second question for us to ask is whether the church is essential. The straight forward answer is “yes.” But the essential nature of the church is not obvious to the world. The passage we just read in Ephesians 1:23 tells us that the church is the body of Christ, “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The church is Christ’s representative in the world. Through the church Christ exercises his authority on earth. We derive our existence and power from Jesus Christ. We are His body; His feet and hands. Through the church God advances His kingdom. Through the church, Christ touches and transforms the world. The church is the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We are Christ’s ambassadors, through whom God makes His appeal to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are the official representatives of Jesus Christ in this world. We are co-workers with Him.
Since we now know what the church is and how essential it is, the question to you and me is “now what?” What is your role? What is your contribution? For one, you need to know that you are part of the body of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 tells us that “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Therefore, use the gifts and talents God has given you to serve others. Even during this lockdown situation, you can find ways to minister to the people around you. Some Christians behave like they are on holiday from “church” since public gatherings were stopped. They have stopped praying, contributing to the financial needs of the local church or even witnessing Christ to those around them. I would like to encourage you to get involved in the life of your local church. Pray; give; reach out. Be an active part of the body.
You are part of the church you have been waiting for. And since you are part of the church, God works through you to confront the gates of hell. Remember that God has given us a wonderful promise that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church. As the salt of the earth, you are to influence the world around you with your Christlike actions. You are to bring healing to the brokenness around you. You are to show compassion to the vulnerable, the struggling and the marginalized. Matthew 25:35-36 says “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” Jesus tells us that the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked and the prisoners are his brothers and sisters. James 1:27 tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
As the light of the world we are to expose and stand against the injustices around us. We are to speak and act against tribalism and racism. We are to speak and act against social injustice. This may not be comfortable and may even put your life in danger but we don’t really have an option. We either have to let our light shine or choose to hide it under the basket.
You are the church. You are essential. Therefore, start living and acting like you are.