The Church - The Body of Christ
Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church.
Ephesians 1:22-23 -
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
It is common in our culture to refer to the building where people gather to worship, as a church. How we treat church buildings has changed through the years, from large Gothic cathedrals to various forms shaped after a denomination or a leader or the fad of the day. The building has been a reflection of the culture that built it.
In our current cultural setting, churches, that is the buildings, have taken on various shapes, sizes and styles as church movements find a way to house those who gather.
The Greek word for church, in the New Testament is Ecclesia, literally meaning ‘the called-out ones.’ This reflects more of the meaning that was held by the early church, of the church as the people who came out of the old religions and out of their secular society, to be followers of Jesus.
Some in our day contend that the church should reflect a certain style, or setting or provide for certain icons of authority. The arrangement of auditoriums usually reflects an audience/performer setup, but the church is not comprised of our cultural bias but of the Christ who indwells us, all of us. The tone of the New Testament church is that they all had gifts and all had a place of ministry. There was no clergy/laity distinction.
Yet, it is not evil that the forms of the church adapt to the culture in which it lives, as long as we understand that our forms, offices, denominational distinctives and hierarchy of structures is simply the way that we choose to operate, not something that God requires.
The problem is that as the church has grown and time has passed, we have formed the church more than it has formed us. Our Western church culture has created a competition for doctrinal purity by which we set standards that affirm our rightness in structure, liturgy and belief. We compete to be the most right and measure ourselves by what we see as error in other groups. We protect our leadership offices by setting up measurements and ordered structures by which our hierarchy of power is protected. We are right, and therefore everyone else is wrong and we should win the allegiance of the people because of our rightness. But is not about us and our forms, it is about Christ and His presence.
Another trap in our justification for ‘church,’ is the need to discover how church was structured and conducted in the early church. That is, we assume that if we have the right forms, structures, offices and functions as did the first century church, we will be selected by God for special favor. But the church is not in the world to create right structures for the people but to introduce their culture, their cities, their nations, and individuals to the transforming power of Christ. Jesus did not come into the world to set up right structures in legal system, nor to make bad people good by getting them to stop sinning. He came to make dead people alive and to come into their lives by His spirit and to transform them from darkness to life by His presence.
So, the church can take various forms as it ministers to different cultures and presents the power of Christ in any manner that can be received by the culture to which it ministers.
Big church, little church, home church – the form should always follow the function. The context should always be a reflection of the content. The substance is always more importance than the shadow. Where we gather, how we gather and who takes the lead is of little consequence as long as Christ is the focal point and the object of the life of the group.