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The Church- what is it?

Posted by thethousandmarch on April 5, 2010 at 12:38 PM

Very soon Jessi and I, with the help of others, will start a church gathering. This is something we’ve been working towards for many years. So, I’m going to share some of my current and developing ideas concerning church.
The Church is a universal body made up of Jesus’ disciples. This international community is the true house of God (1 Pet. 2:5), not the buildings in which Christians meet. The Church is manifested – made visible – in local, national and international – communities, denominations, and hierarchical structures. Theses institutions are churches – associated groups of Christians.
A church is a particular representative of the universal Church. However, it is very important to remember that these institutions are simply ways of organizing the Church, they do not encompass the Church.
The Church is the primary manifestation of the Kingdom of God in this age. With Jesus the Kingdom of God broke into this world in a new way. God and his Kingdom were incarnate (made flesh) in the person of Jesus. The Kingdom is now spreading throughout the world by way of the Church, Jesus’ body (1 Cor. 12:27).
Currently the Kingdom is present in grace and weakness. Its glory is veiled. It is not embodied in a nation, or institution. It does not conquer with force. It is not of this world. At present the Kingdom is concerned with proclaiming its good news. The Church acts as a prophetic foretaste of creation’s future redemption. As individuals in communities, through our social, political, vocational, and religious activities Christians act as representatives of the Kingdom of God in this world. Unfortunately God’s Kingdom is polluted; there are weeds amongst the wheat (Matt 13:24-43).
The Church does not encompass the entire Kingdom of God. I could be wrong about this, but I believe the Kingdom of God also includes the Jewish people (not necessarily the current nation of Israel), and others who have and will be part of God’s Kingdom without becoming members of Israel, or the Church – a few examples being Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law), and those Jesus forgave during his life on Earth who may not have become part of the Church later, because they may not have heard about it, or they might have died.
Being missional is the responsibility of the people of the Church, not churches. Every Christian shares in the mission of God/Jesus. Jesus gave up his position of glory and power to come to this Earth in order that we might be redeemed. We were unable to reach up to God, so he came down to us. He did not wait for us to seek him, he came to seek and save us when we were lost. Like wise, as his followers we must leave our homes, families, and inheritances (sometimes literally) and follow the path of our Master. This is what it means to be missional: to be on mission as Jesus was.
It is not enough to simply go to, or give money to a church that is involved in political action, community outreach, or social justice programs. Really, it’s not the job of churches to organize our political, social, or missional activity. The responsibility of a church is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, administer communion and baptism, and to equip Christians for service. Therefore, a missional church is a church in which its members are serving – loving their neighbors, spreading God’s Kingdom. Individuals do not have to be involved in a church’s programs in order to live missional lives. The mark of a missional church is not how many of its members participate in organized “missional” events. In everything a Christian does, during their normal daily routine, they are to embody the Kingdom and its’ values. We are a sign of the future restoration of heaven and earth. We will not fix society; we will not create a utopia. We can contribute to the building of a good, relatively just secular society, but this is not the Kingdom of God, they are the temporal kingdoms of mankind.
When the Kingdom of God was manifested in the national kingdom of Israel, Israel was set apart from other nations to represent God’s holiness, righteousness, judgment and transcendence. Israel agreed to place themselves under the covenant of the law. They set themselves under the blessings and the cursing of the law – they failed.
Fortunately, God was merciful to those Jews who trusted in him, justifying them through his grace – their salvation did not come through the law.
The Church represents God’s mercy and his presence amongst us. We are a people freed from the law. Jesus has taken our unrighteousness, and the curse of law upon himself. We have not been asked to climb Mt. Sinai to meet God in his severity; he has come down the mountain, appearing to us in modesty.
Understanding this should make a difference to churches concerning how they treat their members. We do not demand purity, we cannot withhold the presence of God, and we must extend mercy and grace to all people.
I have no desire to try and return to some sort of pure uncorrupted pre-Constantinian Church. There was no such Church – even the twelve disciples had problems.
There is no correct way of doing, or being a church. Methods and forms must change, while the invariable core remains intact. The Church is intended to adapt to the culture and people it engages, changing its language, customs, rituals, metaphors, worship style and so on. This is why the New Testament doesn’t give specifics, only generalities, on what a church is supposed to be like. We are not told how to perform communion, baptism, worship, prayer, preaching, teaching, evangelism, where to meet, when to meet, what size a congregation should be, how many elders, or deacons to have, what instruments to use in worship, and so on. We are free to shape each church community in a way that helps us as particular people love God and love our neighbors.
The Church does exist to meet the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of people. Many church leaders complain about Christians who they accuse of being consumers of religious goods and services. I understand the complaint, but it’s important to remember that people do have needs and church communities must serve individual needs. Christians weren’t made for church; church was made for Christians. Individuals do not exist for the community; the community exists for individuals. The challenge that churches face is that they must strive to meet the spiritual needs of their members, not necessarily their members’ desires.
As Christians we should be involved in a Christian community for a variety of reasons. Communities encourage, instruct, teach, guide, discipline, protect, provide for those with physical needs, and equip individuals to serve and love others.
We do not gather on Sundays to fulfill our religious duty. We gather, no matter the day, to worship God corporately, strengthen each other, participate in communion and hear the Word proclaimed.
The Church exists for sick, lost, hurt, corrupted people. Community is part of the healing/restoration process. Therefore, churches need to be places where people are allowed to be open and honest. People need to be able to doubt (Jude 22) and to question. This allows their faith and confidence to grow. As well, creating a safe environment where people are free to reveal their true self encourages them to be honest with God. It helps them see who they truly are. This helps promote integrity and guard against hypocrisy.
I like tradition. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton: Tradition is generational democracy. By respecting tradition we give respect to those who came before us – in doing we are acknowledging the truth proclaimed in the Apostles’ Creed – the communion of the saints. Tradition is not the final authority, our forebears could have been wrong, but we must not assume we are right just because we live in a “more enlightened” era.
I don’t think new churches need to be cool, “relevant”, or focused upon a niche group. They don’t have to invent, or adopt new preaching or worship methods. They can be organized, and do things the same way other churches have been operating for years. They don’t need to meet in houses. They don’t need to be big or small. They don’t have to be particularly creative at anything. They can also have pastors, and other staff, that they actually pay.
I don’t believe in tithes and offerings. I do believe Christians should give their resources to support the operation of their church, to support their pastor (if they can), and to help the other members of their church. Christians should give their resources to help other Christians around the world, and to help non-Christians in need – these resources do not have to go through hands of their local church. I don’t consider these tithes and offerings – tithes and offerings were part of the Old Testament sacrificial system. No church is a temple to which I must bring a sacrifice.
These are some general ideas about the Church. Much of what I have said is reactionary – I’m countering ideas that are prevalent in the Church. I’m sure there are some very important points that I have not addressed, because I don’t even realize they need to be addressed. There is also much that I assume goes without saying. At this moment this is what I'm thinking about.

Categories: Church Planting, The Kingdom of God, Basic Christian Belief