Church fixes us — not the church building, of course, and note that the fix doesn’t always feel good. Being fixed isn’t the same as being happy or contented, but being fixed is the fundamental reversal of being fractured. It’s the restoration of the core of what it means to be human — relationships. Everything that’s wrong in the world stems from fractured relationships, be they relationships with other people or with the Creator. That’s what’s going on in church: We’re practicing right-relationship.
Strangely enough, the church fixes us together, not one at a time, because “self-help” is an oxymoron. Our needs can only be resolved communally, with others, because that’s what’s broken.
Evangelicals tend to emphasize that the salvation of God, through Jesus, is the personal forgiveness of sins. But I’m happy to remind you that salvation goes way beyond that. The good news is that Jesus came to fix it all, not just our personal offenses. He came to fix it all, and most of what’s broken is relational — our marriages, our friendships, our families, our communities, our nations, our political processes. Think about the headlines for a moment. What wrongs are they describing? They’re relational. “Group-help” might be more descriptive of what we really need, not “self-help.”
That’s why church, this gathering of people “getting-fixed-through-Jesus,” is indispensable for salvation. Yes, indispensable. Someone will point to the thief on the cross — or some believer on a deserted island — but granting the rare exception, salvation is found in, exhibited by and proven through the communal restoration of relationship. We call it church.
Let me go one step further to something that will sound strangely Catholic: You cannot be saved outside the church. Again, granting the rare circumstantial exception, there is no solitary salvation. The world knows no lone Christian. Why? Because the very essence of salvation is relationship restored, which cannot happen in isolation.
So although church is messy and sometimes awkward and often uncomfortable, this is where we put our inner experience of grace into a real-world trial. Church is where we test our heart’s transformation and bring to maturity the fruit of the Spirit. You say you’re saved; how do you behave in a board meeting? You say the Spirit has done a work in your life; how are you when the music drags and the singer is pitchy? You say Jesus has forgiven your sins; how are you at forgiving the hypocritical among us? You say you’re grateful to the Father for the gift of His Son; do your offerings truly show your gratitude?
Let’s go one step further. Might this communal understanding of salvation be more meaningful to post-Christian generations? These are friends who don’t instinctively feel the guilt of their sin nor our plea for them to be made right with God. Yet they instinctively join their voices against group sin: be it war, modern slavery or civil rights. This is why the cry for “social justice” is the drumbeat of our lives.
They have been brought up watching world news, not local news. It’s all big picture. They respond to big-picture solutions. It’s helpful for them, given their worldview, to understand that salvation is both personal and global. That’s why church is the first step toward addressing everything that needs fixing today. It’s a group response that includes personal response.
Your local church will certainly seem like a far cry from God’s solution for the brokenness of our world, but it’s not. The good news of salvation through Jesus has been entrusted to a redeemed people, not a person. The radiance of God, which inhabited the tabernacle and the temple, now inhabits the living stones that are being built into a new temple. That’s your local church, the place where the radiance of God inhabits.
Church often lets us down. It often doesn’t rise to this lofty description. That’s normal. Within your local church, there will be individuals who are less “fixed” than others. You probably could list them!
Yet God, in His cooperative strategy, has chosen this instrument — this gathering of unequally fixed, yet restored people — to be His demonstration of grace and power. The church is exhibit No. 1 of God’s restoration of all that is fractured: relationships.
Bishop David Roller served for 17 years as a Free Methodist missionary in Mexico and then for 10 years as Latin America area director for Free Methodist World Missions. He was first elected a bishop in 2007.1