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03 March 2014

What's the point of church?

What's the point of church?

by Jason Clark, senior pastor of Vineyard Church in Sutton

Protestants and then evangelicals reacted against the control of salvation by the Church.They developed new understandings of the Church, where the Church became a vehicle to support the processes of salvation. Yet this response continued on an unintended trajectory. For it is a very short step from 'using' the Church to access the private benefits of salvation, to viewing the church as unnecessary – if not a primary obstacle– to salvation.

Yet salvation is literally to be made part of a new people and a new social body – the body of Christ. Salvation is not a guarantee of a way of life for individuals; rather it is a way of life with God's people in the world, bringing a new way of living to the world. So how does the Church enable people to become this new distinct social group in the world? It does so in the way it has always done – with its worship.

The desire to live a comfortable life, to own a great home, to have an abundance of amazing relationships, to retire early and live somewhere like we

"The church is a place for worship, where our imaginations and dreams are invited to be ones of redemption."

went on holiday, is the dream most people are pursuing. Christians in their worship, their prayers and imaginations, all too often focus their life on those dreams too. Worship is the orientation of our time, energy and money into what we think life is about – the 'worthship' of life. The only question is: what are we worshipping?

The Church is a place for worship, where our imaginations and dreams are invited to be ones of redemption, the cross and God's kingdom. To be a Christian is to imagine how we might bring the kingdom into the world, instead of Christianity being a dream for escape into a consumer fantasy. It is a call to live out dreams of the kingdom – of what Jesus is doing in the places we already live. 

Jeremiah 29 provides a biblical example of this dream, a way to imagine life as part of God's people, and one very relevant to our 24/7 global society today. It also provides an example of what that looks like in everyday life and our worship.

All too often we jump to verse 11 of Jeremiah 29: '"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you". We are all too quick to claim this verse, imagining how God will bless us with wealth and the good life. Yet Jeremiah 29 focuses on a way of life that subverts those kinds of dreams. For the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is predicated on the verses that precede it. Verses five to nine carry the call to investthe most important aspects of life: jobs, homes, and relationships, and all the dreams and aspirations we have for them, for the welfare of the city, i.e. those around us. God's people in exile are called to pour themselves into the world, not for their dreams, but for God's dreams for His world.

In a consumer society, who on earth takes their home, jobs and relationships and gives them to God for the welfare of others? No wonder we need the promise of verse 11! God knows that while the rest of the Western world is keenly focused on their dreams for their jobs, homes and relationships, those who give those dreams and realities over for the sake of God and others, need to hear a promise; that God will bless and not harm them.

Imagine what it would do to our world, if instead of Christians obsessively praying for great jobs, and moving to dream destinations, if they invested their dreams for the lives of others? Imagine the impact on those living in fear of missing the good life, tired from the commitments and isolations needed to make a consumer life, if they saw a people able to live fully in this world, free from the self-obsessions of consumer dreams.

he Church would be the place where God's people re-tell the dream of Jeremiah29, reminding each other that despite the pressures of consumer life, they live in adifferent reality. It would be a place toconnect with each other, to share thestruggles and joys of investing life for thewelfare of others, centred on the worshipof God by His people. Maybe that's thepoint of church

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