Ask 25 different people, “What is church?” and you’ll get a broad spectrum of answers. Believers, non-believers, church leaders, casual attenders, devout, or disillusioned… as different as a warm spring day is from a deadly blizzard slashing with blades of ice.
Some will speak of buildings… friendly country clapboard, homey red brick, stolid gray flagstone. Some will speak of local communities and congregations, others of multinational, multigenerational continua. Some will speak of petty politics, and others of ethereal mystical imperatives.
Who is right? Who is wrong? What is the “RIGHT” answer? Which answer are we supposed to put down on whatever “eternal final exam” we have to pass, knowing and believing all the “right stuff” to get into heaven and keep from enraging this Holy Judge God we must appease not to get cast off into eternal fire? What do we have to study, to memorize, to believe… so that we don’t mess up?
Well, I would like to address this question… though I am not at all sure that you, Gentle Reader, will conclude that I “answer” it by the time we finish.
First, why is this so hard a question to answer?
Well, because we use this word “church”…”ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia)” in the Bible… in three different ways, precisely as people reflect in their answers. Sometimes, we mean a building. Other times we mean an organization, a corporate collective. And then last, but not least, we reference the bride of Christ, the mystical body of Christ. Just a little bit of biblical homework will readily highlight all three definitions among the 114 times this Greek word is used in the New Testament.
People LOVE…. theologians and religious debaters DEMAND… specificity, precision, linguistic parsing with all requisite conditions, qualifications, and constraints. We yearn for certainty and exactitude when we speak, write, argue and debate. When we contest weighty matters of divine eternal import… we want to WIN!!!
Jesus… on the other hand… can be very frustrating to all that.
Jesus… is seldom “linguistically unambiguous” and “clear”.
You never see Him parsing terms and clarifying the hard and fast edges of legal definitions and theological doctrines. In fact, time and time again it almost seems as if He goes out of His way to “fuzzy them UP”! (He doesn’t, really… but it sure seems like that at times.)
Jesus doesn’t obfuscate or confuse matters. But He certainly does cut through the rhetorical dross to simplify them. He goes, unerringly, to the heart of the matter each and every time. Scripture generally follows His lead, as His Spirit has breathed and inspired scripture forth.
When you look at those 114 applications of this strange Greek word, ἐκκλησία, and we ask ourselves what is the simplest meaning that can be applied? When we ask what would (did, does) JESUS mean, when He uses this word? We see the common truth among all the places this word appears. We see how the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, seems to use and apply this word we translate as “church” over 100 times… We see that…
The Scriptural word for ‘church’, is always applied to “a collection of people in any given place or time, gathered for a purpose of attention to the divine.” The word is applied to Jews worshiping the Lord, applied to Ephesians worshiping Artemis, and applied to followers of the Way worshiping Jesus and His Father.
It is hard for US, for PEOPLE, to “define”… because it is neither just a place, nor just a collective of people, but it is a collective with a divine purpose.
In the First Century, as in our times, such people may gather in a house, or a public place used for more than one purpose, or in a special building set aside for worship. But the essence of “Church” is not captured in the “container”… it is captured in the relationships of the people, and the purpose for which they gather.
Jesus said, “19 Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” [Matthew 18]
Jesus “defined Church” right there, I think.
So… what is it to be “collected in His name”?
Well, we’ll look at this in some further posts in more detail. But I think some key elements are found in the following truths…
- We are to love as God loves, and God loves His enemies. While we were yet enemies of God, He loved us [see Romans 5:6-10]. Jesus commands us to love our enemies as well, and do kindness to them (see Luke 6:35]. There is no one on earth, Jesus commands (or even permits) us to hate… ever.
- Jesus is now in us, and we in Him, and together we are in the Father.
- We are to go forth among all peoples, covering up all in the Father’s love, the Son’s forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit’s presence, teaching through our very BEING the totality that He commanded… that we love God with all we are and have, and love others as ourselves. (By this, others are to know that we are His… by how well we love.)
- We are to assemble together for a specific purpose (often ignored), as we pursue our lives here as people of God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Be joyful and filled with encouragement and hope! We are wedded to the Lamb! The Church is the Bride of Christ! How joyful beyond imagining, should such a wedding celebration be?!
More on this as we move forward! JOY TO YOU THIS DAY!!!