THE CHURCH IS NOT A FAITH COMMUNITY
I recently received an email written by a well-meaning Christian leader. The email was addressed to local “faith communities”. The writer wanted to enlist our support in reaching out to students – a very worthy cause. I answered politely. I resisted the urge to advise the writer that churches should not be referred to as “faith communities”.
Now some of you might think I am being pedantic. Others of you might add that we are faith communities, and that it is a good way to refer to churches in a culture like ours which is, at best, suspicious, and at worst, hostile to the institutional church. Some of you are expecting me to say that “faith communities” is not what the Bible calls the church, and we should use Bible words. If I made an argument like that you would pounce and say the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible and you use that! I will not make that argument here. I have different concerns.
Language affects how we think. Words help and/or hinder us in thinking. If we use words in a way that goes against the biblical world view, then we will be confused. So it is here. The logic behind the phrase “faith communities” or the similar expression “people of faith”, is that most people have no faith and most communities and organizations just are. What distinguishes Christians is that they are people of faith. But this whole picture is the opposite of what the Bible teaches about human beings and human institutions.
The consistent biblical teaching is summarized very well by part of a Bible verse, “… they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” Romans 1:25a ESV. Notice what this teaches. It is not that Christians worship and non-Christians don’t. No. Both Christians and non-Christians worship. No human being has an option about worshipping. The question is never, “Will I worship?” The question is always “who or what are you worshipping?” Similarly, the text does not say Christians have faith or trust and non-Christians do not. No human being has an option about whether or not to have faith/trust. The question is, will you have faith in God as He reveals Himself or will you exchange this for something else?
Similarly, every human organization, because it is human, is organized around worship and faith. Every human institution, including the local church, is a faith community. For a Christian to talk otherwise is to walk into confusion. What matters is worshipping the true and living God as He has revealed Himself.
This matters. There is, humanly speaking, nothing virtuous about faith. God made us to breathe. He made us to always connect by faith. It makes no more sense to be identified as being “a person of faith” as it would to be identified as a “person who breathes.” Biblically speaking what matters first and foremost is the “object” or “end” or “goal” of faith, not the strength of my faith. A weak, but true faith in Jesus Messiah is of vastly greater value than very strong personal faith in an idol, a lie, yourself or anyone/thing other than the Creator who made you for Himself and sent His Son to save you. I may have an exceptionally strong faith I can jump across the Grand Canyon. Another person is terrified of flying, but enters the plane anyway. My strong faith leads to my death. Their weak faith, well placed, takes them across an ocean.
So if you feel you need to avoid the word church, say “a community whose faith and hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ”. He is worthy of all our worship, all our faith.