Before I turned eighteen, my family and I had moved seventeen times. From California to Arizona, Montana, Ohio, and Florida, I never experienced what it was to have a place I could call my home. For much of my life, when people asked me where I am from, I often responded by asking them how much time they had to hear an explanation. Although my mom and dad always loved me and cared for me and my two younger sisters, I never knew what it was to have a lasting home, a community of people whom we really knew, or a hometown where I was from. But then I joined the church, and I immediately had a home, a people, a community. I had dozens of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters who welcomed me with open arms, open hearts, and open homes. And they did so naturally, organically, not because of any sort of church-growth program but because they were genuine followers of Jesus Christ.
In this crazy world, the church became the only thing that made any sense to me. Even though I quickly learned that the church isn’t perfect, that it is filled with sinful people just like me, I also learned that the church is a community of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I learned that the church is not just a crowd of people in a building or a bunch of independent, autonomous individuals believing and doing their own thing for their own ends, but that it is a family—the family of God. I came to learn that the church visible is made up of believers and their children throughout the world and that the church is different from the world. The church is the light of the world and a city on a hill, a countercultural community piercing the darkness of the world with a countercultural message. Thus, the church is set apart from the world and is engaged in a spiritual war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus declared, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18), and that tells us that a battle is raging against the church. This reality has led theologians throughout the ages to speak of the church as both militant and triumphant. On earth, the church visible will always be engaged in a spiritual battle as God builds, expands, and defends His kingdom in and through us by the power of His Holy Spirit. And as we the church militant fight the good fight and run the race set before us, we are a communion of saints along with the church triumphant—all those who have gone to be with the Lord. We are one church, coram Deo, just as we sing in the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”: “Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One, and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.”