Rev. Algernon Lewis
Chairman of PEC

Pentecost is the birthday of the institutional church. The church was born in power, fire, and the impartation of the Holy Spirit. Reading the recount in Acts 2 calls readers to imagine the chaos, the bewilderment, and the pure joy of being where God is manifestly present. No one knew what was happening or what to expect. The descent of the Holy Spirit turned everything around. Rather than just a group of people following a man who was killed and came back to life and then disappeared, they were now an organization or an organism. They now had a mission and a mandate to follow and a passion for both.
Fast forward to 2023, is the church still a necessary part of society? Do we really need the church in its current iteration? Someone may be thinking it is sacrilege to ask such questions. However, with increasing declining attendance at worship and declining membership, it seems that more people are thinking and acting in ways that suggest that they do not need the church. Whatever regular church members think about that perspective, it is the reality. Therefore, we need to ask questions about the relevance or usefulness of the church in the current context.
This article aims to answer the question of why the church is needed today. As you read this article, think about your answer to the question. What does the church do that no one else does well in society? Most of the responses I have heard mention things that are done well by other sections of society. The church needs to know why it exists so that we can ensure that we make the main thing the main thing. In my view, the church is needed because Jesus said so; because it is intended to be the space for orthodox spiritual formation; and because it is God's chosen agent for the building of beloved community.

Because Jesus said so
When we are dealing with the church, our actions must be founded in the plan and purpose of Jesus. The church is Jesus’s plan for the world. Matthew 16:18 is clear – “and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Whatever our thoughts are about the church, we must begin here – Jesus says that he will build his church. This statement also clearly announces that Jesus sees that the church has relevance in society. The value of the church to Jesus is underscored by the various metaphors used to describe the church in scripture – the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12), the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5: 22- 33, Revelation 21:2), the household of faith, and God’s building ( Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 2:19-22).
These metaphors speak to how the church should operate in the diving and natural economy. The church – corporate and individual – needs to drill down into what Jesus said about the church and recalibrate how we go about the work of the church. Far too often, the organization takes precedence. Far too often, the perspectives and ideas of leaders, official and unofficial, tradition, and trends carry more weight than what God says about the church. The headship or Chief-Eldership of Jesus must sit in our meetings and planning sessions to filter the courses we ultimately take. As a leader, I know it is easy to forget or neglect the unique nature of this Spirit-formed organism. However, Pentecost is the opportunity to take another look and ensure that we are properly aligned with what Jesus said about the church.
Because it is intended to be a space for Orthodox Spiritual Formation
Sometimes it is lost on the church that Jesus inaugurated a completely different system of occupying space in the world. The Sermon on the Mount is the manifesto of the Kingdom of God. It does not read like any other document or holy book. It is a unique expression of the ways of God. Bless those who curse you, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek – they make no worldly sense and that makes perfect sense because the church is only in the world, not of the world. Our core values have divine origin and while they do not fit the immediate context, they are needed to keep the fabric of society livable. For all the ills of Christianity with its complicity with the powers that be to oppress and enslave, the values of Christianity propagated by the church brought a respect for human flourishing that was not present before. The work of propagating human flourishing is a work in progress as the circle widens.
The church is needed to teach those values of the kingdom as taught by the sermon on the mount. They are fundamental to our identity as Christ-followers. We get other things right at times but when the fundamentals are missing, the gaps are obvious, and we are soon labeled as hypocrites. The church gets the opportunity to introduce people to the ways of Jesus. We get the opportunity to help people to regain the image of God in them that has been tarnished by sin. We get the opportunity to help people focus on the values of the kingdom and not just the power of the kingdom. There is teaching about powerful prayer, casting out demons, prosperity, and other catchy topics. Whereas those things are great, teaching on a transformed heart is overlooked. Jesus came to change our hearts not just to make us powerful. The church is needed to help people be transformed inside first and then have other things added.
Because it is God’s agent for building beloved community
This brings me to the final reason for the church. The church is needed because it is God’s chosen agent for building beloved community. It is my conviction that the value of community is too often overlooked. Acts 2: 42-47 is a glowing testimony of what God intended. There we see the church reaching out to meet people where they are and embracing them with the love of Jesus. Beloved community is marked by hospitality and generosity which are sparingly served in our churches. When we look at the early church with all its flaws, it was a community that embraced people and shared itself with them. God so loved the world that he gave… God loves the individual into community because iron sharpens iron. The church survived the hostilities of the past because they had each other. There is power in community.
The witness of Scripture is that God calls individuals for the sake of the community. Abraham, Moses, the prophets, the disciples, Paul, and Jesus, were all called out to go back to community to be agents of the living God. In community, our witness is formed and perfected. Within community, we practice what it means to live for Jesus. When people are exposed to that community, even when there is not a direct verbal witness, the examples are so powerful that it does the work. It was the community of the early church that helped the church to reach its community. The way of Jesus was counter-cultural and counter-intuitive so it did the evangelistic work. The light shone in the darkness and made Jesus known to the wider community.
In community, we get to bear one another’s burdens. In community, we get to encourage the weary. In community, we get to disciple each other. In community, our youth and every other category of members can be ministered to. When we build the community of faith, the atmosphere is created for the Spirit of God to move. When the Spirit of God moves, everything is possible. Everywhere in Scripture where the people are together in community, great things happen whether it was Babel or Pentecost or the early church. When all of us come together, we can do so much more. Let us give community building within the institutional church another look to see what God sees – the tool to change the world (I will build my church-kingdom community). I am convinced that if our communities were better, we would reach more people.
Building community is hard. The devil fights our efforts to get together because the devil knows the power of togetherness.
These are my three “whys” for the church in the world – because Jesus said so, because it is the place for orthodox spiritual formation, and because it is the agent for building community. What do you think? It would be good to hear your thoughts on this. May Pentecost 2023 begin a renewed sense of our identity as the church and how we might better live into what it means to be the church in this season.