The church is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t always seem that way, but it honestly is. Perhaps most amazingly is the network of believers that the church brings you into contact with.
I have recently spoken about my friendship with Jeremy Marshall. As I mentioned there, in what world does a working class scruff from a no mark village like me have anything to do with the former CEO of the UK’s oldest private bank? Yet, Jeremy being who he is, sought me out, met with me, never condescended or patronised and was a real champion for ministry in areas like Oldham. This is a prime example of the church at its very best, bringing people from very different backgrounds together because of the gospel.
This was also brought home to me just a few days ago in a different way. My family are going on holiday next year and, wherever we can, we want to try and find a local church to meet with on the Sunday. It just so happened, I have an Italian friend who I met on my one and only visit to the USA (we were both there at the same thing) and have since stayed in touch. A quick whatsapp message to him and bish, bash, bosh we get a recommendation for a church nearby where we’ll be staying along with some tourist advice to boot.
But, again, where else could two people, unconnected in any other way, from different nations, link up that way? I’m not saying it never happens anywhere else. Of course international friendships exist. But this happens all the time and without any other grounds for connecting beyond the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I think that is just amazing.
Most other friendships of this kind stem from bounded groups. Sure, two people from different countries and different ethnic backgrounds might get together and become friends. That is hardly unusual. But they tend to become friends through a shared interest or professional background. What is unusual is that people with literally nothing in common so frequently become friends – indeed, are more than friends but recognise one another as family – by virtue of nothing else than a belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You might like to brush that off as being exactly the kind of bounded group like a professional conference would create. But it’s not. We’re talking about friendships here between people who believe Jesus is the Christ and we are saved by faith alone in him. It is the equivalent of people forming friendships just because they both believe gravity exists and have nothing else on paper in common. The fact is, that just doesn’t happen. In fact, there are loads of examples of people believing the same things in the world and yet not becoming friends, and having no interest in becoming friends, which makes its own point. Just believing the same thing, of itself, doesn’t lead people to be friends of itself. And why would it! But in the church, belief in Christ, seems to do exactly that all the time.
It is very easy to be down on the church. To be down on Christians. I don’t deny that we, like every other group composed of sinners, will no doubt have our issues and problems. But every now and then, it seems worth reminding ourselves of the good in the church. Of the good that Jesus himself designed it to have. And I love the fact that I can have friends, brothers and sisters, on the other side of the world who are interested in us and what we are doing – and we in them – and who are willing to serve and help one another meaningfully for no other reason than we both know the Lord Jesus.
I think that’s pretty cool.