What is Church? The question no doubt brings up images in our minds either from the culture or our own experiences. Church may mean something very formal and solemn for some, or it may fit more with the idea of the local megachurch where there are lots of programs for the entire family, the music is more contemporary and the atmosphere laid back. Still for others church may be simple gatherings in homes. Along with the ways that folks gather for church there are no doubt strong emotions that are evoked by the very word as it relates to those who call themselves Christians. So here I am, pastoring one of these entities called a church and I come to it with my own mixed bag of experiences both good and bad.
A couple of weekends ago I was giving the weekend message at Northshore Vineyard on the church and the definition I landed on after wrestling with the question a bit was that the Church is the community gathered around the person and purposes of Jesus. I drew this definition from the story in the gospel of Matthew where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter responded to this question by saying, “You are the Messiah (the Christ) the son of the living God.”
Jesus then commended Peter saying that he was blessed because he didn’t think that stuff up himself rather it was revealed to him by God. Then Jesus went on to tell Peter that he is a rock and on this rock Jesus is going to build his church and the gates of Hades won’t overcome it.
While there are differing views of what Jesus meant by upon this rock I will build my church (the Catholic Church has tended to take the view that Jesus meant Peter himself), I tend to think Jesus was referring to the revelation that Peter had just had-that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God. In this light, the community that Jesus is gathering is built on and around that revelation. So if this definition is close to being right about church, then church is much bigger (and perhaps much smaller) than what many have come to associate with the word. What I am wrestling with today is what it looks like to be a community gathered around Jesus and his purposes?
I read something in N.T. Wright’s latest book After You Believe that may be relevant on this point,
“What Jesus did and said was designed to give a decisive answer, in deeds as well as words, to the question, What would it look like if God was running things?"
I love that quote and I love thinking about what it would look like as a community to live this idea. Just some things I’m thinking about today.
So… What comes to mind when you think of church?
Does the definition I put forth about church ring true with you?
Have you experienced church as a community of people gathered around the person and purposes of Jesus before? What was that like?