What is the Church? This question has consumed my thoughts for many years. The bible has always described the church as the body of believers, the church of Corinth, the church of Ephesus, etc, are all gatherings of Christians in a certain city. The bible is very clear in stating that we the believers are the church, the bride of Christ. But somehow the definition of the church and what it is understood to be has changed drastically from what was written in the New Testament. If you ask a Christian today what the church is, they will most likely tell you that it is the building down the street or the "house of God" that they attend, usually on Sunday mornings. Almost every Christian in America that I have ever talked to describes church as a place to "go to" as in "I go to this church" or as a membership as in "I am a member of this church". This redefining of church has gone on for so long now that it has now become the cultural norm in America. Of course the first century believers needed to meet somewhere (houses, synagogues, public squares) but the church as described in the bible has never been defined as the meeting place but always the believers themselves. This may not seem like a big deal but this subtle change greatly hinders our calling as Christians. Because of this change in the definition of the church we are now focused on buildings instead of people, passively attending events & services instead of actively living a shared life in Christ together, and demanding that institutions and professional clergy be responsible for doing what Christ has called all believers to do.
Do you remember being taught "here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and see all the people". Ever since we were kids we were taught that the church is a building where Christians gather. We were taught that it is "God's house" and it is a holy place. This shift in thinking transfers personal responsibility for living a Christ-centered life from the individual to the institution and the professional clergy (pastors, worship leaders, etc). So instead of taking up our cross and following Jesus, we pay our pastors to do it for us. We then come for an hour each week to hear their stories and hope they motivate us enough for us to follow in their path. We then start seeing the pastors as the super spiritual Christians that are called to do the work of Christ while we passively sit back and observe. Sometimes when we want to be more spiritual we'll even teach Sunday school or lead the singing time during the service. Unfortunately it usually stops there. No life change, no following in Christ's footsteps, nothing of real meaning. Of course I am not describing everyone in the institutional church setting and I don't blame the clergy for our current situation in the American church. Maybe I am being a little harsh and overstating things, but these are the types of things that tend to happen when we make the building, the institution, and the pastors the church. As Neil Cole puts it "Traditions invade the church and take the place of biblical teaching. Either God's word is our truth or our traditions are; we cannot meld the two and expect a healthy outcome". "The point is that church is shared life together, not an event, no matter how good the event is, whether a traditional worship service or a house church gathering. If we place importance on the event at the expense of shared life together, we have missed the point entirely. "
The bible describes all the believers in Christ as members of the priesthood. There is no distinction between clergy and laity in the New Testament. We are all called to be the body of Christ where all of the parts are equal and are responsible for their own walk with Christ. But we are not to walk the path alone. He has called us to come together with other believers to be the church and bring others into the Kingdom of God. How can we do this when the majority of the body has been paralyzed by the institutional church and the clergy. It seems that in most gatherings all that is left of the body is a mouth and lots of ears. To borrow another quote from Neil Cole "We must have a revolution of the heart and mind so that we remember that people are more important than property and life together is more important than simply singing together. We must allow the power of the Kingdom of God to be released to ordinary Christ-followers and not monopolized by the clergy."
After a lifetime of attending institutional churches deep institutional ruts had formed for me and my wife. We want the gathering of the body of Christ to be so much more than our previous experiences have been and have worked to try break out of these ruts but have faced resistance and opposition at every turn. I have found that there is wisdom in not trying to put new wine into old wine skins. For my wife and I to grow spiritually we need new wine skins outside of the institutional church where we can kick the habit of institutional reliance. Being a part of an institutional church is not a bad thing, but for us it was more of a hindrance to living a Christ-centered life. In the past when we've struggled with institutional church and were not able to bring about change in the institution we just stopped attending Sunday morning services but did not replace it with anything else. Institutional church had defined who we were and after that was gone we were completely lost and didn't know what to do ourselves. After a lifetime of being spoon fed like spiritual babies from the institutional church we had no idea of what to do when it was gone. Recently though, within the last couple of months, we've been having some meaningful times pursuing Christ together as a family. This has been a growing experience for us and a great time of teaching Eva about Jesus, when we would normally rely on Sunday School to do that. We still don't know what being the church really looks like but we have started the journey and are starting to grow into spiritual toddlers. Being the spiritual babies that we are, it is even more challenging for us to figure out where to go from here. We do not want to do this alone. We hope to find others on the same journey where can share our lives and experiences together as the body of Christ.
1 Cor 12:12-27
12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.