Having taken the red pill, and having decided that there is so much I don't miss about "doing church," what am I left with? What is my new church reality?
My new church reality lies in the complete and simple conviction that as those called by God, we are the Church. Most people would agree that the original Greek word "ecclesia" is not a place, a structure or an institution. Neither is it a verb. It is not something we do, which is why I intentionally called my post "10 Things I don't miss about Doing Church." Because we're not supposed to "do church." But for some reason, that is what a lot of churches have become: this is what we do and how we do it. And if you don't agree with it, go do it somewhere else.
Our enforced break from "doing church" has made us all stop. We just stopped.
We stopped going to Sunday morning services and doing church with people there. We didn't find another Sunday morning service so that we could do church with a new set of people. We stopped. We breathed, we rested, we sought God's voice, we re-grouped and we stopped. And not once did we think we had done anything wrong by stopping. In fact, we know in our hearts that God was and is pleased with us for stopping.
But we didn't stop being Church and that is the crucial difference. We didn't stop being an assembly of called out ones. We assemble often as a family, whether it's for bed-time prayers, formal Bible story and discussion times, spontaneous worship around the piano or stereo, meals with friends, late-night discussions about particular verses or God's purposes or Jesus' teachings in the Word of God. Paul assembles with other called out ones at his school and teaches them and prays with them. I assemble with a friend over a cuppa and we share our hearts. We assemble with a small group of other called out ones in our home for fellowship, worship, teaching time and prayer, each of us using our gifts in a safe place. And I meet with other called out ones in various on-line communities where we encourage and support one another. In all of these areas of our lives, we are the Church. We seek the authority of the Word of God together in different ways. We are learning what it means to have Jesus live in and through us in every part of our lives and relationships.
We are the Church.
Yes, when we meet in our home with other called out ones, we are fairly regular and organised. You might argue that we're doing church together here, just in a different way. But that's not the point. The point is, our meeting together is fluid and organic. Our meeting together is not something we feel we must do, should do, ought to do, but something our spirits long for and greatly desire and there is no prescribed way for how we do it. We seek to hear from God and the counsel of the Holy Spirit in all that we do in our daily lives and there is no difference on Sunday evenings.
There is one over-riding principle however to being the Church: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35 NIV). We must love and in loving, we will point to Jesus.
If we do not love one another, we do not reflect Jesus Christ and therefore we cannot be the Church.
I haven't thrown the traditional Sunday morning service out the window. I have not sworn that I will never cross the threshold of another church. Neither am I an advocate for home church. I don't necessarily believe that one is a better model than the other, or that mega-church is all bad and tiny church is all good. There are a lot of great people out there right now who are "re-thinking church" and I am encouraged by the dialogue, as long as their proposed new church reality doesn't just become a new prescription for how we do church. If the people are gathering, whether large or small, formally or informally, conservatively or charismatically, but loving one another and pointing to Jesus then that is an assembly of people who are the Church. There will be fruit from such an assembly and Jesus will be evident.
And as for the argument which might suggest that without structure and organisation we must not be committed to the body of Christ, that we are just living in selfish indulgence, then I would gently suggest that you enquire of those in our community how much we are committed to loving them, to being loved by them, to seeing them grow and persevere along with us in our discipleship of Christ. But in actual fact, I would not suggest any such thing at all because, God alone is my judge and He says, "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve." (Jeremiah 17:10) I stand before Him and Him alone. I should add with a sigh of resignation at this point that being judged by others is another thing I do not miss about "doing church."
Our family attends a Christian Family Camp every Easter. We are loved there and we love. We fellowship, receive teaching and we worship. We are Church when we are at Easter Camp.
This year, we had a conversation with a member of the band at Easter Camp who sheepishly admitted, with nervous glances to the side, "actually, we don't, um, have a church right now...we're 'in between churches.'" Finding ourselves in the same position we met their sheepishness with smiles and were able to offer, "oh phew...you too eh?" I wish then I had the knowledge and conviction that I have now to be able to say, "hey you know what? You're here. We're here. We are Church together right now. You do have Church; we are your Church. You're not missing anything." We knew that he was embarrassed and possibly even ashamed of the fact that his family didn't go to church.
Because it's a well known fact, that as Christians we ought to go to church and we ought to do church.
I rather think we ought to be the Church.