Redefining Church

Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)

In a conversation with friends recently, we found ourselves discussion various incarnations of the body of Christ and at one point I stopped to correct what I think is a fundamental error in our understanding of who we are as “the church”.

It was simple, really, and one might argue that it is mere semantics, and I needn’t concern myself with such trivialities, but I must insist… this may be one of our biggest misconceptions of who we are.

We applied the word “Church” to a public gathering where many believers (and/or non-believers) gather to sing, listen to teachings, often participate in a ritual of eating and drinking small emblems of greater significance than their size would indicate, and usually there is some chance to present an offering to God from the bounty of our wallets. 🙂 We, as a society, as a culture, and as “the church” call this event, “Church”. It’s pretty universal. That time, always on Sunday mornings (but could be other times in addition to Sundays, unless your Seventh Day Adventists, then it’s on Saturdays) is what we call, “Church”.

To further complicate linguistic matters, we also call the entire 501c3 organization a “church”. We also apply the term to the edifice in which said organization conducts meetings and other business. Sometimes we even apply the term to a larger organization, encompassing many other smaller organizations (aka a denomination) such as the Methodist, Wesleyan, Baptist, Episcopal or simple, Christian “Church”.

Are you confused yet?

We have applied the term “church” to such a variety of things, who knows what the real meaning of the word really even is anymore???

I am not here to embark on some tireless, etymological debate on the Greek words used in the NT for church. If you read my post about academia, you can probably understand why that is not my focus here. My point is much simpler. As is, I believe, the definition of “church”.

We have added so much to what we really are as the church. From my reading of the new testament, the church is not an event, or a location, but a people. We who trust our lives to Jesus are the church. We exist as the church not because of anything we do, but as we opt in with Jesus, we are added to his body and become a part of the Body of Christ, his Bride, The Church. We don’t have to sign a membership agreement, or even go through a series of membership classes. Our “membership” in the church is an outcome of our relationship with Father.

The church, as I understand it would not cease to exist if there was no building to meet in. Nor, (and perhaps here is where you reach for your stone to silence the blasphemer) does the church cease to exist when we cease to meet for worship. What?! How can that be? THAT IS church! Really? Is the bride of Christ simply a gathering of people to perform some predetermined (or even spontaneous) act of worship? I think not.

There are many things that we as members of the church can do together, and obviously, worship is one of them. (That in itself is a broad and perhaps abused term, that may precipitate another blog at a later date.) We can also study together, play together, grieve together, laugh together, serve each other, help each other, and anything else you can think of “together”. The church is definitely meant to do life together, but none of those activities, should they cease, could somehow preclude us from being “the church”. When we’re in Jesus, we simply are the church. Period.

Does this make sense? I am not decrying our gatherings of any sort. We must. That is really one of the main purposes of the church – the “one anothering” that we can do. But we must understand that the church is not an event, and it is not a location, or anything associated with either of those.

We are the church. The body of believers whom Jesus has gathered. There are many manifestations of his body, and I am pretty sure these days that they are not the ones that we think they are. They are not housed by bricks, nor do they brandish towering steeples. They are a body, whom the Head directs as he pleases.

Consider this from Ephesians, written to the people who had been considered outsiders by the Jews, who felt their lineage provided them special access to God:

Eph 2:19-22

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. We are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also joined together as part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Or these words of encouragement from Peter:

1 Pet 2:5, 9-10

And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you were not a people;
now you are the people of God.
Once you received none of God’s mercy;
now you have received his mercy.”

We are a nation. Natural citizens born into new life offered through Jesus. He is our Head, and we are his members. We are not an event you can go to, nor a place you can visit. We are a living, breathing house of God. He dwells in his people… everywhere.

This really only matters because I think we need to reconsider how we use the word church. As we apply it more correctly, the life we live as the church might begin to focus more on the relational, family life it was intended to be, and less on the structures we have created to maintain that life. I read recently that a healthy church is focused on the Groom and not on the Bride. When we are only thinking about how to “do church” better, and not thinking about how to be Jesus’ bride, we are missing the point of who we are.

We are the church. His beloved. That’s better than any meeting or building or any other thing we could settle for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.