What a church isn’t

Published 8:51 pm Friday, August 8, 2014

By Chris Surber

Churches today are dying, missing the mark, and falling into cultural obscurity, because we don’t know what the Church is. Christians go to church under false pretenses, and unbelievers stay home on Sunday under similarly false pretenses.

We’ve got so much wrong thinking about what a church is these days. So, to help clarify here’s what it defiantly isn’t.

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The Church isn’t the Ruritan Club. It isn’t the Boy Scouts. And it isn’t any other civic organization. The church is not a do-gooder society. It’s not a daycare. It’s not a concert hall or choral meeting facility, or a place for AA meetings. Some of those things may happen in a church building but churches don’t exist primarily for those purposes.

In fact, the Church isn’t a building. It isn’t a place. It isn’t a historic piece of real estate where five generations of your relatives are buried. And it most certainly is not an institution. Nothing has done more damage in the minds of Christians through the centuries and in our time than the institutionalization of the church.

In the Bible, the Greek word most often translated “church” is “ekklesia.” Its most literal and properly biblically contextual meaning is “called-out ones, meeting, or assembly.”

The biblical notion of church is never a building or a place. Every single New Testament instance of the word church refers to people called out by God, assembled together in faith, and bound to one another in Christ-like love.

A church isn’t an edifice. Sorry, but it’s not even a denomination. Two women gathered together at a coffee counter around an open Bible, praying for one another is a church gathering. A family in a living room singing songs to God is a church meeting. A large assembly of people in a 278-year-old building praying, preaching and proclaiming the worth of God in song is church only to the extent that the people doing those things are followers of Jesus. In I Corinthians 12:27, the Apostle Paul writes; “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (ESV) The church is intrinsically human. It is flesh and blood bound together in spirit. It is people of like faith in Jesus doing “Jesus-stuff.”

You can have a bunch of people in an old building with stained glass, sing some songs, fall asleep during a sermon, and pat yourself on the back for your spirituality and still not have church. On the other hand, you can get a few people in a field who genuinely love God, are filled with the Holy Spirit, and have been transformed by Jesus.

It isn’t complicated. A church — in biblical terms — is just a gathering of followers of Jesus doing what He commands. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14 ESV)

The church has nothing to do with places and real estate and everything to do with people and obedience.

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at www.chrissurber.com.