Is church necessary?

“Church” in our culture is like a holy club for the spiritual elite, with its hallowed buildings, authority-wielding hierarchy, denominational doctrines and rituals that must be obeyed, and mandatory church attendance.

There’s no avoiding church, however, because Jesus said he’d build his church, so church is part and parcel of Christianity, but are institutions,¬†buildings, doctrines, customs, rituals, disciplines and forms of worship what define the word “church” in scripture? No, 1 Corinthians 12:27. The¬†church, quite simply, is “the body of Christ.” It is not a body of people, nor a people-created institution, or anything of our making.

The church is Christ’s body. But when did Christ ever have a body? When the Word became flesh. That’s when Christ took on a natural human body so that in that body he could redeem, heal, reconcile and transform all humanity into a new creation, a new humanity. He was the first of this new creation to exist, and now in his resurrected, ascended position beside the Father, he’s re-creating his church in the same image. That’s why the church is called the body of Christ. It’s of the same bodily humanity he was, restored in the image of God. Jesus was the first to accomplish this in his own human body, and now through his church he’s establishing the new humanity of the future.

The church is the earthly reality of this new humanity. That’s why Jesus preached the Kingdom of God wherever he went, because the new humanity had begun, first in his own human body and then in his church body, starting with the apostles and continuing in all those the Spirit unites to Christ after that. The church, therefore, is the means by which the Kingdom of God, the new creation and the new humanity, are making their way into all the world, so that every human being eventually has the chance to share in it. And those who are sharing it already are the church.

Is church necessary, then? Oh yes. It’s living proof that what God sent Jesus to this Earth for is actually happening. God sent Jesus to live the new humanity, made in his image, for us. So that’s what Jesus did, and still does. He lived the new humanity in his human body and now re-lives it through the centuries in his church body. And those in whom he’s re-living it are the church, regardless of whether they attend in a people-created building or institution, because the church is the body of Christ, not a human creation.