Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Where Real Church Meets, and What Happens


(Somewhere in Israel)

Most people in my church family have known, for decades (because we have been taught), that real "church" is not a building. Nor is it an "institution."

There's an old worship song my church was singing before I came 28 years ago. It's called "We Are Your Church." If you are from Redeemer and remember that song, raise your hand high - right now - so I can see it.  The people are the living stones that make up church. Yes!

Years ago Linda and I were in Singapore, eating dinner with Pastor Albert Kang, after I preached before his church. 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 may be referring to the “institutional church,” not Church As a Movement. 

I’ve been on the inside of the institutional church, and it’s a struggle. The institutional church is political, bureaucratic, hierarchized, top-down, and slow to move. Pastors and priests of institutional churches are often 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 governmental structure, and definitely not associated with a building.

“Church” has nothing, essentially, to do with buildings. Some churches meet in buildings, but they don’t need to. Historically, for the first 400 years of Church, the people met in homes, maybe in caves, maybe outside, like Jesus did. When Jesus stood on the hill that descended to the Sea of Galilee, giving his Sermon on the Mount (he didn't have a title for his message), he wasn't disappointed because his message would be so much nicer if he was giving it in a building.

I'm not against buildings. I thank God for the beautiful facility we have. Who really wants to meet outside in January, in Michigan. But, I am against an edifice complex, and associating church with any physical structure.

The Real Church is like an army, ready, alert, on the move, and flexible. If you are thinking, "That's not my church," then perhaps "That's not church."

“Church” is about people, not buildings or political institutions. The real Church is revolutionary; the institutional church is often a reflection of its culture’s institutions. Even non-institutional churches like Entertainment Consumer-Driven Attractional churches mirror our entertainment consumer-driven attractional culture. When that happens, I don't think it's church.

Institutional churches “vote” on things, like what color the curtains should be in the nursery. (Institutional churches have split over this kind of thing!) I hate to burst your bubble, 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. (There's a difference between a "voting" church and a "discerning" church. See here, e.g.)

“Church” is not something you “go to” on Sundays. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are the “church.” How head-swimmingly odd to say, “I’m going to church today.” This is equivalent to saying, “I’m going to myself today.” Sounds self-serving, doesn’t it? Think about it.

The next time someone asks you, “Where’s your church at?”, point to yourself. You are the church. This doesn’t change, even if you lose your building. Even if you don't now meet in a building. Even if you meet in a building.

The followers of Jesus, his disciples, 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. This is good, because two thousand years ago a mob in Jerusalem put their thumbs down to saving Jesus.

In the process, in Real Church, 

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, 

fetuses get nurtured,

hope gets restored, 

paradigms get shifted, 

and, one discovers the glorious presence of God. 

Nothing can separate a person from that - not famine, not a pandemic, not nakedness, not persecution, not the lack of a building, not the economy...

Not even death. 

That’s Church. 

“Boring” is not the word to describe it.