Whenever the word "Church" is used, many people tend to associate it with a particular building or with a specific organisation. As far as buildings are concerned, there are several beautiful churches around the world. When it comes to organisations, there are also numerous ones such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and so on. Although the term "Church" could certainly refer to an architectural wonder or to a group of people, I prefer to go beyond these definitions.
To me, the Church consists of ALL human beings. Put differently, I consider the Church to be made up of the huge human family that includes all the people who have ever lived, are presently living, and even future generations. And yes...the human family or the Church is not limited to a group of individuals who gather in the same building every Sunday or who recite a particular set of prayers; prison inmates, athiests, agnostics, alcoholics, and suicide bombers, to mention just a few groups of people, are also members of the Church.
Us Versus Them
In view of the definition given above, a person cannot join or leave the human family. Regardless of what one says or does, they will always remain a member of such a family. Seen this way, the Church cannot be regarded as, say, a football club or a political party.
Throughout history, one could observe a tendency to carve the human species up into various groups. Each group would typically have a number of rules. The failure to comply with some or all of the latter would normally result in the suspension or even expulsion of the person who strays. In several organisations, the rules are laid down by a handful of individuals who are conditioned by the socioeconomic circumstances they live in. Once the rules are established, any person who questions them usually risks facing various types of threats. In many organisations, there is such a degree of fear of losing certain benefits or of being humiliated that numerous members resort to adopting a publicly conformist attitude whereby they avoid upsetting the status quo, even though their hearts might be tormented by countless doubts.
Over time, several groups pride themselves on being better than others. In some cases, a group can become so exclusive that any prospective new members are scrutinised very carefully prior to being allowed to join the organisation. Such behaviour leads to an us-versus-them mentality. It is hard to consider the latter as particularly beneficial to society because it usually encourages the creation of numerous stereotypes about all those people who do not belong to the same organisation. Furthermore, the division of human beings between those who are "with us" and those who are "against us" could also be said to contribute to a shocking degree of indifference towards all those who are perceived as outsiders.
The world is made up of countless organisations. Although some are more inclusive than others, even those that stress the importance of peace and love in the world can generally be fairly hostile towards certain individuals. The us-versus-them mentality could still be witnessed in such organisations.
If one had to look at, say, various Evangelical Christian organisations, even if many of them might be working hard to combat various social problems such as drug addiction or alcoholism, most of these groups can be extremely harsh when it comes to anyone who does not express an interest in sharing their beliefs. Just to mention one example, a typical Evangelical Christian could easily say that since an atheist refuses to believe in God, they will suffer for eternity in Hell.
On the basis of what I have read about Jesus and in the light of how the Church was defined at the beginning of this article, the world would be a much better place if people tried to build bridges rather than burn them as a result of ignorance, fear or insecurity. If I am a true follower of Jesus, I must consider all other human beings as my brothers and sisters. I cannot see much love coming out of withdrawing love from other people simply because they are Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and so on.
The Importance of Love
As atheism and certain lifestyles appear to become increasingly popular in many parts of the Western world, simply labelling people as sinners or as infidels and threatening them with an eternity of suffering does not strike me as a response that is characterised by love. Furthermore, the effectiveness of such labels and fear tactics is highly questionable nowadays. In a world that is largely obsessed with instant gratification and with things that can be seen and measured, simply talking about one's "spiritual destination" following death is clearly not filling up the churches or leading to more people deciding to base their lives on the teachings of Jesus.
Moreover, I am always puzzled by how several individuals who describe themselves as Christian appear to feel comfortable when talking about the possibility of millions of human beings ending up in a place of eternal torment for one reason or another. I believe that true love can never rejoice at another person's suffering.
When a family member does something wrong, provided that there is true love, the other members might feel hurt or angry when contemplating the consequences of the act, but they would not desire any harm to befall that person. They would actually want to do everything possible to help the latter become a better individual. As far as I am concerned, if I were in Heaven, I would not be happy until I was sure that every other human brother and sister who has ever lived is also there to live as happily as possible, cured of all those things that drive people to harm themselves or others.