What is church?There are volumes of books and articles written on this subject, many of which probably include original Greeks words like Ecclesia and Koinonia. My intent, however, is to consider the broader implications of our answers. Let us consider essential focus.
Of course, to talk about church we should probably first address the message of Jesus of Nazareth.
What is the Gospel?
This subject has resulted in still more volumes published and more emotions heightened, but most of Christendom seems to summarize its orthodoxy with the Apostles Creed and/or Nicene Creed. These creeds conceptually express the core, unyielding truths of who Jesus was, is, and is to come.
Jesus did not call people to merely confess their frailty and profess belief in his claims, however. He calls Believers to follow him—to be his disciples. Further still, he calls disciples to demonstrate belief in him and his message by modeling it to others and by telling others about it.
Believe. Be a disciple. Make disciples.
To follow Jesus necessitates that I not only love God, but that I also love others. Everyone. Family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, angry drivers, politicians . . . This is perhaps the hardest part because people are complicated. People are wounded, often fearful. Not to mention entitled, demanding, and occasionally just plain unreasonable.
The answer begins with loving people.Now to paint a mural with ideal colors:
Disciples start congregating on a regular basis because they find inspiration from each other’s stories and that of the Biblical narrative. They want to share life together: memories, resources, and wisdom.
A church results. It is a unique kind of community. It is a symbol of unity. As the Holy Spirit moves, a vibrant and healthy culture forms. Whether in a home, some building, or outside, the church serves as a gathering place where people sharing a common faith can worship together: praising God, praying, teaching, learning, and generally supporting one another in daily life.
A church grows. Its members direct their energy toward fighting injustice on behalf of their city. A church becomes a force for stirring communities into action. It stands for peace and unity.
The congregation eventually exceeds the capacity of its meeting place. A new space may be required. Multiple worship services are decided upon. Strategies for a satellite campus are discussed. More leadership and structure are garnered so that resources are stewarded well and personnel kept accountable. Bureaucracy settles in. Additional staff members are hired to help manage and facilitate it all. Marketing strategies are formed. Bulletins are printed. Signs are made. Websites are built. The calendar fills up.
Is church the real goal?
I appreciate something that Pope Francis I said: "I want trouble in the dioceses! I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures."
It is necessary to briefly note the difference between a church and the Church; though, of course, this is also debated. A “church” implies either a building (derived from the German word, Kirche) or a gathering of Christians. This congregation may or may not grow—or want to grow—into an organization. “The Church”, contrarily, represents the unity in Jesus that all Christians share around the world. The Church is the body of Jesus: the continuing tangible manifestation of the Gospel. The Church is also called the Bride of Christ. While these metaphors can offer further insight into Jesus’ relationship with humanity, they usually just add some initial befuddlement.
What does it mean to be the Body of Christ AND to be his Bride?Community should be the inevitable result of people intent on loving God, loving one another, and loving their neighbors. But attending a church does not necessarily lead to community. And community does not necessarily mean church. Or friendship for that matter.
There should be some level of belonging because of shared faith in Jesus’ love. The desire to love and be loved is arguably the predominant motivation for just about everyone’s choices. Most grasp what love is. More struggle with how to give and receive love. Jesus offers some relatively plain insight. I just struggle with it because I want to find ways that mold the definition with my own inclinations.
Is that not also so with a church? Personal inclination is impossible to remove when people are involved. So what am I to do? Maybe the point is that I focus first on loving like Jesus rather than first building a church like Paul.
Did Jesus not speak more about the Kingdom of God?While talking about church is more tangible than talking about love and the Kingdom, Jesus calls his disciples to herald the truth of God’s Kingdom. Our world is fallen and broken. It is dying. We are dying. I am to share God’s love because it combats isolation and oppression with the mysterious reality that life does not have to be this way. There is another path to follow. God is real. He is present. He is good. Jesus, the Son of God, the Creator of Everything, invaded the world over two centuries ago as a human being. He answered the call for justice with his own death. A rocky hill with a bloodied cross became a major symbol and stronghold in a blatant invasion against the Prince of the Earth, Lucifer.
There has been a violent spiritual war raging since creation. While it is written that it will not conclude until Jesus returns, in the meantime, he brought peace to earth in a permanent, growing way. He rose from the dead. Death is no longer the conclusion. A new life is offered. Jesus promises victory.
The Kingdom of God is advancing.To be the Body of Christ is to take part in a great campaign. It may or may not include being part of a local church. To be his Bride is not only to remain pure—not committing ourselves to other promises of meaning, whether sex, money, or fame—but to remain faithful with the opportunities that he has given me. I am called to proclaim the Good News. By the power of the Holy Spirit, I am called to combat Hell on earth—the lies and chaos of Satan—with the realities of Heaven. I am called to dwell amidst my culture while not letting it shape my motivation. The grace of God is meaning and hope. His love for each of us, including unbelievers, is my motivation. My goal is to end willful ignorance, passivity, and distraction. While it must begin in my own heart, it must not remain there.
The world needs more action and less theorizing.
Believe. Follow Jesus. As an individual, as a community, or wherever I find myself, I must cast aside excuses and help others along that new path. There is strength when two or more gather in the name of Jesus. Hallelujah, God is powerful enough to use me even when I am alone in shadows of doubt or heartache—or in the brilliance of success.
It is not comfortable. It is not easy. But my God is greater than adversity. I will overcome by the love of Jesus and the message of his transformative power. Amen.