If we're going to talk about the Temple and the priest, then it only makes sense that we talk about the church - the place where most of us get our ideas about what the Temple and the priest must have looked like. And we've talked about the church before. But I'm not sure we can talk about the church enough.
Depending on what denomination you're in (or not in, in the case of the non-denominationals), your church experience is probably a little different. But there are some ideas that seem to be pretty common across most church experiences in our current culture.
So church probably means a place where you go at a set time to experience a production of sorts, a program that members of the church (or staff members of the church) have been rehearsing and preparing for all week. It usually includes some singing and musical worship, some prayer, probably a sermon or a teaching of some sort, and in some places, a celebration of Communion/Eucharist. Interestingly, I have noticed in a lot of churches in our age, prayer is a bit of a sideways thing - a lot of churches don't pray any more. Or if they do, they pray for the presentation/service they're having at the moment they're having it and nothing more. And a lot of prayers are spoken more for the human audience in attendance than for the Lord.
But I digress.
So the church is the place that you go for a worship service - to be a spectator, a consumer, perhaps a participant to some degree or another. You show up late, and nobody really notices. Or they laugh it off because you always show up late. You don't show up at all, and few, if any, really notice. It's come-as-you-are and come-and-go-as-you-please, a relaxed sort of affair that lets you commit to it only as much as you want to for whatever season you're in.
What, then, is the church?
This gets a little tangled and complicated, because I have a lot of things that I want to say, but they are so intertwined that it's hard to sort them out from one another. I guess I will start by saying...this isn't what the church was meant to be.
The church was a place where the people of God came together after the Cross for mutual encouragement and accountability. They came to learn, yes. To worship, yes. But more than that, they came to be together, to draw from one another the strength to do two things: primarily, to live as Jesus would want them to live, which was less about hearing a sermon about how Jesus wanted them to live and more about holding one another accountable to the ways of Christ. And second, to gain from one another the encouragement to continue living in The Way in the face of the opposition of the broader culture - when the church started, that was Rome.
Now, I know that when I say something like that, our culture hears something like this: "You only have to go to church when you need the encouragement." And I know that there are many who are living in good seasons in their lives where it's easy to say, you know what? I don't really need encouragement right now.
That would not be a statement that anyone could make in faith.
Because when we're talking about the church, we're not talking about the kind of emotional "you can do it!" encouragement that our culture thinks of. We're talking of something more. We're talking about the kind of three-stringed cord it is to be doing life together. Of having a circle of belonging. Of having an extended family. Of truly being brothers and sisters and, more important than that, a band of disciples.
Yes, that is the heart of the church.
And that's what we're going to talk about this week.