Question 48: What is the church?
Answer: God chooses and preserves for himself a community elected for eternal life and united by faith, who love, follow, learn from, and worship God together. God sends out this community to proclaim the gospel and prefigure Christ's kingdom by the quality of their life together and their love for one another.
As the last part of the answer says, the church has been called "to proclaim the gospel and prefigure Christ's kingdom by the quality of their life together and their love for one another." By proclaiming the gospel, the church fulfills its primary mission. By sharing life together in a loving community, the church adorns the gospel it proclaims by showing the world how it leads to transformation and richness of life in a family.
Many people have come to faith in Christ as a result of first seeing the loving community of Christians who took their faith seriously. This kind of community is often missing from the lives of unbelievers, but it is immensely attractive and can have the effect of stirring within them a desire to learn more about what has makes Christians love one another the way that they do. Jesus said to his disciples, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). By mirroring the self-giving love of Jesus for us toward one another, the church presents a living illustration of the love of God in Christ for a lost world.
True Christians are the first to acknowledge that they are imperfect people. But because they are secure in the love of God for them in Christ, they have freedom to be honest about their own failings and weaknesses with other Christians. And those other Christians, if they truly know the grace of God that has covered their own sins, are not quick to pounce in acts of judgment, but are eager to forgive, accept, encourage, build up, and support those who are open with their faults. The church, as a community of the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3), should be the place where an authentic love like no other in this world is experienced. That kind of love will make the gospel attractive to outsiders. And in this way, the church collectively bears witness to the good news of Jesus by its very existence in the world.
Suggested passage for personal or family reading: John 13:1-35. What does the story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet communicate about us and about him? How does it give us an example of how to love one another? How does our love for fellow believers advance our mission?