Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Recent Family photos

Taffy and Reggy lounging around amongst the folded washing on the couch. They are growing up fast and are still lots of fun to have around the house.
Matt has started playing footbal for the North Ringwood Under 9s. He has training on Thursday night and matches on Sunday mornings (this works well because our church meets in the late afternoon). Matt's loving the opportunity to play in a team except he would prefer Kangaroos colours rather than St. Kilda. Go North Ringwood Saints.

Annette's latest project is a bargello quilt. She's done two previously but she has not had a pattern for this new one and has written up her own pattern based on a picture from a book. She's just been away for a Stitcher's weekend and got a lot of work done on it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

When the church is not the church

The English word “church” is translated from the Greek, ekklesia which literally means “the called out ones” (ek – out and klesis – calling) and was used to describe an assembly or a lawful assembly. Applied spiritually, ekklesia is “the called out of” - that is, the saved who are called out of the word (John. 17).
• “Church” (ekklesia) is used to denote all those who are in Christ without any particular geographic designation (Matt 16:18), as well as groups of followers in a particular geographic area (1 Cor.1:2).
• “Church” used universally (all the saved) is always used in the singular.
• “Churches,” plural, refers to a number of local churches, the groups of called out ones in various areas. For example when Paul wrote, “... the churches of Christ salute you” (Rom. 16:16).
• “Church” is applied to the gathering or assembly of God’s people (1 Cor 14:19).
• “Church” denotes those followers who have connected together and have the full development as far as organization is concerned (Acts 14:23).
• The local church, when fully organized has elders and deacons (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13).

I’ve been noticing people’s use of the word “church” recently. I’m aware that although the definition of a word determines its usage in language, the reverse can also be true: the contextual usage of a word can actually influence and change its meaning.

Annette (my wife) was driving with Kate (8) and Thomas (4) in the back seat of the car recently. Thomas had his teddy (Fred) and Fred was eating everything they drove past. “Fred is eating the tree,” “Fred is eating the car,” “Fred is eating the church” to which Kate spoke up and said, “That’s not the church, the church is people, not a building.”

“Church” is used 115 times in the Greek New Testament, however, it never refers to the building in which the church meets. Yet, our use of the word “church” can lead us to this conclusion. I hear people saying things like, “we’re going to church,” “we’re having a working bee at the church,” “the board meeting will be at the church.” While I understand that what most people mean is “the building where the church meets,” it subtly draws us away from the true meaning of the church as the people of God, (followers of Jesus) gathering to encourage and serve each other and then going out to share and demonstrate the Gospel.

I also hear people saying, “after church let’s go out to lunch” or “I like some quiet reflection time before church starts” this use of “church” focuses on the gathering of people or “the service.” Although the gathering of God’s people is vital, it is only one aspect of being the church and in my view is secondary to the going purpose. We gather to encourage each other, serve each other, learn from each other, recommit ourselves to each other, be accountable to each other, worship God together and pray for each other so that each person can be better equipped to live out their faith as they go out to their various homes, workplaces, schools and communities.

I asked my class at Kingsley College last year the following question: If there are two groups of 20 people and one is a church and one is not, what makes the church a church?
We summarised the list to the following: The church is
• Committed to following Jesus Christ in faith and action
• Committed to serving each other and building each other up using their gifts
• Committed to being accountable to each other and to grow in love for God and others
• Committed to gathering regularly and sharing in worship and relationship
• Committed to share in mission together and be witnesses of the Gospel message in all areas of their lives.
Michael Frost asks a similar question in his book Exiles . He asks “when is a bunch actually a church?” He proposes the following four requirements: Trinitarian Theology, Covenantal Expression, Catholic Orientation, and Missional Intent.
In the Church of England report, Mission Shaped Church, they summarise the five values of the church as: 1) focused on God the trinity, 2) incarnational, 3) transformational, 4) disciple making and 5) relational .

Our usage of the word “church” ought to be as a verb. That is we do church and be the church, rather than as a noun, we go to church (meeting) or we clean the church (building).

My observation is that churches can easily become preoccupied with the noun definitions of church. Time and energy is consumed on buildings (or raising money for buildings) or on the gathering (service) to the point that no time or energy is left for the primary purpose of the church which is living missionally in our communities with the support and accountability of the church.