Growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist, Sabbath has always replaced “Saturday.” Sabbath came with closed schoolbooks, dinner together, warm fellowship, and church. Aside from the occasional prayer meeting, to my 10-year-old mind, church was a weekend check-in.
By Callie Williams
Church was never meant to be a weekend check-in
Growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist, Sabbath has always replaced “Saturday.” Sabbath came with closed schoolbooks, dinner together, warm fellowship, and church. Aside from the occasional prayer meeting, to my 10-year-old mind, church was a weekend check-in. The pastor was the one who “fed” us spiritually, and listening to the service opportunities attentively was my part to play. I dutifully greeted the occasional visitor, but the rest was routine.
After I graduated from high school, I saw friend after friend leave the church. I stayed close, but I too grappled with the church’s implications. If I’m just one of 18 million, does it really matter if I attend? I’m grateful I stayed to learn the answer. Through involvement in my local church and various churches all over the world, experiential truth drove home the biblical significance of the church.
1. Made Up of Individuals
Some believe that the church is a building, a complexity of politics and leadership, or even an entity in itself. On the contrary, the church is you. It’s me. We as individuals make up the church. Just as a body of water is made up of drops, the body of Christ is made up of you and me. Without drops, there is no ocean; without people, there is no church.
A church often entails a building for worship services, but that is not church. When we believe it is an inanimate structure, we confine church to a weekend activity instead of an identity. Furthermore, when we objectify it into an entity of itself (e.g. the church said this, the church made that mistake, the church is responsible for this), we shift responsibility away from ourselves and thereby forget that we, the church, are Christ’s bride.
It is true that we rise no higher than our leaders, but it is equally true that the church’s temperature is determined by its members. Ellen White wrote that “no church can advance in holiness unless its members are earnestly seeking for truth as for hid treasure.”1 She doesn’t say the pastor, the board, or the lay leaders; she says members. Our church itself cannot move forward until we, personally, move forward with Christ.
2. Called for Service
When Jesus left this earth, He gave the greatest of all commissions: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). The disciples sought to fulfill this with all their might. They preached, healed people, even distributed food to meet physical needs (Acts 3:11-13; 3:7; 6:1-7). Their example teaches us that it is not up to the pastor or leadership team to do evangelism and win souls to Christ; reaching out involves all disciples.
How should one serve? Ellen White wrote: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’?”2 Meeting people’s needs, whatever they may be, is what Jesus did.
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul discusses the unity in diversity that the body of Christ has, and should have. If we were all preachers, who would greet? If we were all sound technicians, who would run the homeless ministries and provide food for potluck? “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?” (verse 17). As we serve together, we must use God’s diverse gifts to serve and draw others to Him.
3. Designed for Fellowship
We are cautioned not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves” (Heb. 10:25). Human nature has a propensity to avoid vulnerability, to put on a facade. Because of this, many complain of hypocrisy within our walls. Instead of being a hospital for the sick, we’ve somehow become a showcase for pseudo-saints.
In Acts 2:42 Luke chooses a particular word for the early church’s fellowship: koino?nia. This is not a casual “hanging out,” but an intimate companionship, one that includes healthy vulnerability and mutual kindness and love. There’s no record of these church members being flawless,3 that means they loved each other anyways. They intimately knew and still loved. This creates both safety and a heavenly satisfaction.
Christian author Timothy Keller expresses beautifully our need of this true Christian fellowship: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”4
The church is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In continuity with the people of God in Old Testament times, we are called out from the world; and we join together for worship, for fellowship, for instruction in the Word, for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, for service to all mankind, and for the worldwide proclamation of the gospel. The church derives its authority from Christ, who is the incarnate Word, and from the Scriptures, which are the written Word. The church is God’s family; adopted by Him as children, its members live on the basis of the new covenant. The church is the body of Christ, a community of faith of which Christ Himself is the Head. The church is the bride for whom Christ died that He might sanctify and cleanse her. At His return in triumph, He will present her to Himself a glorious church, the faithful of all the ages, the purchase of His blood, not having spot or wrinkle, but holy and without blemish. (Gen. 12:3; Acts 7:38; Eph. 4:11-15; 3:8-11; Matt. 28:19, 20; 16:13-20; 18:18; Eph. 2:19-22; 1:22, 23; 5:23-27; Col. 1:17, 18.)
4. A Place of Growth
A particular Native American tribe had only one rule when speaking up during general meetings: if you critique something, you must also supply an idea for improvement. Many of us have done a fine job critiquing the church—everything from what the General Conference president is doing to “terrible” outreach practices to what the pastor should have preached about last Sabbath. But when we point out errors, do we offer our hands and hearts to meet the need?
Why did God choose Israel as His people? Why has He called you and me to be part of His church? When God spoke to Moses about His plans for the Israelites, He said, “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8). God didn’t stop with delivering them from bondage, but He brought them to an exceedingly wonderful new home.
So with us: God desires to take us from our sinful condition to the full measure of Christ’s character, and He wants us to do it together. As iron sharpens iron, as one ember warms another, the church is a place for us to grow up in Jesus together.
1 Ellen G. White, Darkness Before Dawn (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1997), p. 7.
2 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 143.
3 The Epistles to the Corinthians should dispense with this myth.
4 Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2011), p. 101.
Callie Williams serves as mission director for R3 Missions. She lives with her family in Maryland, United States, where she is also studying to become an English teacher.