Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How Do You Define Church?

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?  


Carlos said...

This is a very relivent topic in this day and age. I was so glad that you brought up a point that is central to answering the question of "what is church?" This point is that there is a difference in a physical congregation and the idea of church as it applies to the family of believers in Christ. This is linked directly to the difference between religion and spiritualty. The former in both of these cases is centered around people, while the latter is centered around God. Your thought:
"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."
is an example of the God-centered idea of church. I feel that "real" church is God-centered. I am definatley not denying the importance of religion and structure in our lives, but it becomes vanity if God, and the work that He has for his people to do, are not the center. I currently attend a church that I have been going to for about 15 years now. We have experienced remarkable growth spiritually over the course of the last 2 or 3 years. I think the way the we view our church has played a huge role in this. We have moved away from focusing on ourselves as a group defined by a set of religous rules, and more towards being a "community of believers" seeking God's will in what we are trying to accomplish. I think people are still important in the definition of church but from the perspective of being a group working together to support, serve, witness, and seek God - rather than being the center of the idea of "church."

Pi Man said...

I would answer that in my opinion, the church is literally the body of Christ, the group of believers called out by God to be holy, i.e., to literally be set apart to fulfill the purposes of God. The focus of that body then becomes fulfilling the mission(s) of God as they are led by the Word of God and the guidance of His Holy Spirit. Now, those two sentences might be retooled, reengineered, or reworded in some esoteric fashion, which can be fine as long as it does not conflict with or diminish them in any way. The question then becomes how will the various entities of Christ followers interpret and apply that to their particular “family”? What has bothered me, having been a member of or at least attended ~10 mainstream Christian denominations (including non-denominations) is the vibe often given off that suggests that “we have it more right than you ” when comparing their “family” to others. That hurts our cause more than helps, as it gives off some sort of “exclusive” and/or “arrogant” attitude that can be counterproductive. Just as not everyone listens to the same kind of music or wears the same kind of shoes, I believe that God in His infinite omniscience calls each family to fulfill similar and still different missions for His Kingdom, where the missions may be different but do not exist in some sort of mutually exclusive fashion and yet are still totally within His will.

steven hamilton said...

i love that wright quote...i haven't checkout "after you believe", but i'll definitely need to move it up on my reading list...

i think our definitions of "what is church" should start much more like esus' parables of the Kingdom, i.e., "The Church is like...a Body, a Bride, a Living Temple, a scattered-gathered people, a motely crew, the Blues Brothers band (we're on a mission from God), a mess..."

peace bro...