Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Church" Is Not an Institution, But a Movement

Years ago I was in Singapore eating dinner with Pastor Albert Kang, and we were talking about Christianity. Albert leaned over the table and said, “Christianity is a movement, not an institution.” That’s correct.

When I hear people say things like “church is boring” they are talking about the “institutional church,” not the real church. I’ve been on the inside of the institutional church, and it’s a struggle. The institutional church is political, bureaucratic, slow to move. Pastors and priests of institutional churches are viewed as butlers who are there to please parishioners.

The “church” we see in the New Testament was nothing like this. There, the word “church” meant a “people called out to follow after God,” rather than a “building.” “Church” has nothing to do with buildings. Some “churches” meet in buildings, but they don’t need to.

The real Church is like an army, ready and alert and on the move and flexible. “Church” is about people, not buildings or political institutions. The real Church is revolutionary; the institutional “church” is but a reflection of it’s culture’s institutions. Institutional churches “vote” on things, like what color the carpet should be in the nursery. (Institutional churches have split over that kind of thing!) I hate to burst your bubble about this, but the word “vote” only appears once in the actual Bible. It’s in Acts 26:9-11, when Paul talks about his former Christian-persecuting life and how he would “cast his vote” to punish Christians.

“Church” is not something you “go to” on Sundays. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are the “church.” How odd it is to say “I’m going to church today,” which is the equivalent of saying “I’m going to myself today.” Sounds a bit self-serving, doesn’t it? The next time someone asks you “Where’s your church at?” you can just point to your own self. You are the church. This doesn’t change, even if you lose your building.

We are the church. Jesus is our Lord. Jesus is on a mission. The mission is about his kingdom, and introducing others to it. “Christians” are people who follow after Jesus. They don’t “vote” for Jesus; they follow him. In the process sex addicts get free of their addiction, prostitutes find the love of God, marriages get reconciled, drifters find a home, the homeless and hungry get cared for, children get to keep their biological parents, life takes on meaning, hope gets restored, paradigms gets shifted, and one discovers the glorious presence of God. Nothing can separate a person from that - not famine or nakedness or persecution or the economy or even death. That’s “church” as I see it. “Boring” is not the word to describe it.