What is a church?
Written by Ben Uthe
It is fascinating to think that throughout the centuries and in many different cultures this question has been answered very differently. For some church is gathering in secret by candlelight because their local government could arrest/harm them for doing this publicly. Some gather with 10,000 other people in a massive auditorium normally used for concerts or sporting events. All these people are “going to church.” In the Old Testament the place where God's presence dwelled had very detailed specifications and was limited to a particular place. Now God's presence is not limited to a tabernacle or the ark of the covenant. His presence dwells in every true follower through the Spirit given at conversion. In stark contrast to the elaborate OT temples, churches now meet in old, abandoned warehouses. How is this possible?
Some churches dance, clap their hands and sing loudly. Some of them sit in silence until the Spirit provokes someone to say something. Some churches have a culture of people wearing the best outfits they possibly can. Others show up in jeans and a t-shirt. There are hundreds of other differences that could be listed but at the end of the day all of these places are attempting to do the same thing-worship God. So it begs the question, what is a church?
At the end of the day the Church is about God and His people. It is about coming together to worship our savior who unites us. It's about a family of adopted brothers and sisters coming together to be a family. One of the best examples of what a church is intended to look like comes from the book of Acts in chapter 2:42-47. It reads “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[a] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
These early believers were devoted. That word always sticks out to me. They were not going to leave if the music was not to their liking. Not only were they devoted to the apostles teaching but they were devoted to each other! They spent time together. They went to church together. They spent time in their homes together. They shared meals together. They shared the gospel with their communities together. They met needs as they arose. This is what church looks like! Sharing time and our lives can feel so costly and demanding at times if not near impossible. I am fearful that much of our ideas in America in 2021 about what church is are very far from these realities Luke lays out. Certainly, we should think about picking a church that has good theology, teaches the bible and is active to be on mission in their community. There are good and right criteria to sort through, but it has become far too easy to be so picky. To turn the church into a thing that is all about us and our personal preferences. If we don't like this one, we will find another down the street that caters to our agenda more. How did we get here?
One of the big observations from this is the main thing we are committing to in a church is the people! This is the local gathering of other Christians in our context. We are all citizens of another kingdom and are exiles here in this land. We gather to push one another towards Christ and towards his purposes for our lives and to fulfill his mission in our communities. My prayer is that when people think of a church we think about the book of Acts. I pray that we would think about a group of people who are devoted. They are devoted to the Lord and one other. They are committed to spending their lives together even though it is much easier not to. They are committed to sacrificially caring for other people around them because they are members of the same family. They are committed to doing gospel ministry in their city and see the Lord work in and change people's lives. This is what church is. It is not an event. It's not something to criticize. It's a local family to belong to.