Peter Beck Christian Blog and Commentary

The Church United

Last summer I visited Berlin, Germany. While there I spent a considerable amount of time touring the city, seeing the sights, and reliving its history. I was also looking for the telltale signs of the Christian church in this large city that boasts a Christian population of less than one percent. I looked in 800 year old cathedrals. I looked in great structures with soaring ceilings that once resonated with the pageantry of medieval Europe. It wasn’t there. Instead, I found it meeting in an abandoned brothel. I found it in a building once used by the women’s auxiliary of the Nazi movement. I found it wherever Christians came together.

Today, too many people look for “church” in buildings and traditions. We attempt to identify the church by denominational ties and historic roots. The struggling Christian community in Berlin, however, has it right. They’ve found the church in the gathering of the saints wherever they might be. It is ironic that we’ve forgotten that is what the church is supposed to be. After all, the ancient Greek word for “church” found in the New Testament – ekklesia – means a gathering or assembly.

The church, however, is more than a simple gathering of people. Any social club can fit that description. In fact, many American churches are little more than a social club, a group of people who gather together periodically for purposes no greater than maintaining relationships. No, the church as a true gathering of the saints is marked by something greater. The church is marked by unity.

The unity that is to be found in the true church is described in the Bible in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:37-47). This account of the earliest gathering of Christians dates to mere weeks after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, we find the ideal, the model church as it was before the imposition of human pride, inventions, and traditions. This ideal, revealed in the Word of God, displays unity on four levels.

They were united in faith. When confronted with the reality of their sinfulness, not their sins but the perverseness of the human heart, they asked what they must do to be saved. The apostles responded and the people believed that Jesus Christ was their only hope for salvation, the only means of forgiveness. They placed their faith in him and no one else.

They were united in beliefs. This first group of Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching. They had no tradition to fall back on, no catechism to guide their thoughts, and no churches from which to choose. They had to move forward with only the teaching of the Apostles and God’s written Word.

They were united in fellowship. That is, the early church was a community unto itself. They ate together. They shared together. They loved each other and they supported each other because they needed each other. The early church was a Christian oasis in a desert of unbelief.

They were united in worship. Like all true churches down through the ages, the early church was drawn together by a common desire: worship. They had no cathedrals or church buildings. They met in the temple. They met in their homes. They met every day. They met to praise God.

The early church survived its early days as marked minority. They survived not because of their centuries old heritage. They survived not because of their traditions. They survived because of their unity and the grace of God.

Moreover, not only did the early church survive because of their unity, they thrived because of their unity. The writer of Acts remarks that this small band of believers enjoyed the favor of all the people. That is, even those who did not agree with them theologically appreciated them personally. They saw peace and they saw love amongst that gathering of early Christians. They respected them for it. We need to be reminded of that lesson again today: division is troublesome but unity is winsome.

Better yet, when they were unified, the church grew and it grew exponentially. The church flourished in spite of severe opposition. Perhaps the decline of so many denominations and great traditions can be attributed to nothing more than the lack of unity on the core essentials of the early church: faith, beliefs, fellowship, and worship. In Berlin, you won’t find many Christians. They’re just not there. But in the midst of the thick spiritual pall that hangs over that great city, I found small clusters of believers, little lighthouses of hope. One Sunday morning we gathered with believers from thirty countries and six continents and we lifted our voices in one song. We were united in that moment of time as the people of God and we had “church.”