Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Church

I've written briefly about this before as we face new times in the church, but it needs to be said again and in the plainest of terms because it's a debate that continues to rage in our culture - inside Christian hearts and outside of them. As we begin to look toward life outside of stay-at-home orders, we're still trying to figure out what that means for the church.

To be honest, we're still asking what the church even is.

A local pastor opened his church this past weekend, holding services for ten attendees at a time. And he made a fairly decent point in talking about his decision, a point that's been going around social media in less-gentle ways for a few weeks. If it's "safe" to go to the grocery store with a few hundred of your neighbors, then why is it "unsafe" to go to church with a few hundred of your neighbors? Most churches have the ability to create space between families in the sanctuary, more space than there is in an average grocery aisle, yet the church has been closed and the store remains open.

The conversation that comes out of a statement like this depends on what your definition of the church is. And that's how this whole thing becomes so heated right now. It really puts our faith in a pickle.

On one hand, the church is not a building. A lot of persons - Christians and non-Christians - are quick to point this out, albeit in different ways. We know that we are the living temple of the Lord, that He dwells in us, that we don't have to go to a building to find Him. And even the world is crying out that if we have to be in a building to worship God, our faith is not all that we claim it to be. The building, they say - and we say - is not the thing.

And that's absolutely correct. The buildings in which we gather on Sunday mornings are not the thing. Our faith is not measured by our sanctuaries, and we do not have to be in a particular place to commune with God.

On the other hand, the church is not individual believers. You are not the church by yourself in your own house. You're not. You can be a Christian there, perhaps, but you can't be the church.

When we look through Scripture, we do not see God working in the individual without an eye for the collective. Our English translations of the Scriptures do us no justice on this front because it's impossible for us to tell the difference, on a simple reading, between "you" - meaning the individual, the second-person singular - and "you" - meaning the group, the second-person plural. In our individualistic society where we're told that our faith is private and personal and a choice that we make for ourselves, we commonly default to the singular, but the truth is that overwhelmingly in the text, it's the plural. Even when God is speaking to the prophet Jeremiah in those words we love to quote - I know the plans I have for you - it's the plural. I know the plans I have for ya'll.

And that's the thing - the church is a ya'll. It's a collective. It's a plural. It's not you; it's not me; it's us. Together. The church is a fellowship, a community of believers, a people of God.

Which means...we do need to be together. We do need to come together in one place. We do need to meet together. The New Testament tells us to never neglect meeting together, and that's not because we need to populate a building, but because we need to connect with each other.

Sorry, but the church is not the church if we're not together.

We see this reflected in the language of the New Testament. It's always talking about "each other" and "one another." If we could be the church individually, it would say "someone else." Love someone else. Love someone other than you. Be nice to someone other than you. Be charitable to someone other than you. But that's not what the Bible says. The Bible says to love one another. A group that you're part of. Fellowship with one another. Encourage each other. The language implies that we be together, not apart.

So no, it's not about the building. We don't have to go to a church building on Sunday mornings to encounter God, to be faithful, to be Christians. Whatever. We're absolutely right about that. But neither can we be the church without our fellowship. Together is who we are. As I said earlier, I will say again now: our meeting together is essential.

It can be absolutely true that we don't need the church building to worship God at the same time that it can be absolutely true that we need to meet together to be the church. These things are not mutually exclusive. They are both necessary for a real, vital, living and loving faith.

Let us not be pressure nor fooled into believing otherwise. 

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