What the Church Is Not

Luke tells us that the early church did four things as they came together:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42 NIV

As many people come into the church, so too are there as many motivations behind their arrival. One of the most common is fellowship. People are looking for friendship, cures to their loneliness, and someone to show them love.

All this and more can be found in the church, but Bonhoeffer quickly calls people out who have self as their purpose in attending church. They’re easy to spot if you take time to look around. They’re the ones who don’t serve but take. They sit alone and wait for others to come to them. And they are the first to complain when things don’t go their way.

Listen to what he says:

There are Christians, too, who cannot endure being alone…They are generally disappointed. Then they blame the fellowship for what is really their own fault. The Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium. He is really not seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

What does Bonhoeffer mean when he says the church is not a Christian sanatorium?

The members of the Body of Christ are called to serve one another in love. This doesn’t mean some serve, while others are served. That happens at a sanatorium. You go there to rest and recuperate. You take it easy, while staff members bring you a towel, serve you meals, and give you a massage. The patient does nothing.

Not so in the Church. We’re all patients, yes, but in serving one another we find renewed strength and restoration. This can only happen when we’ve given ourselves to the service of the Great Physician. Once he heals our souls, we work out our salvation by serving others.

The verse in Acts was just the beginning of the gathering of those following the Way. We know as Luke continued to tell the history of the church, they actively served one another, shared possessions, gave of their time and money to help the needy, and even sewed, like Dorcas, to provide for the widows.

Ask yourself about your motivations for being in church. Are you there to serve or be served? What would Christ have you do?

Grace and Peace

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