Yesterday I slept in a little late. I was heading for the shower to get ready to go to Living Waters and my brain suddenly came to life and reminded me that I had to take care of Rika the Wonder Dog. You see, I am dog sitting for my folks for a few days, but I had spent the night at my place. I thought, "Oh no, that poor dog has to be let out so she can Use the Lawn," if you catch my meaning. Anyone who wakes up with a full bladder knows the frustration of not being able to get to the bathroom because someone else is hogging it. Poor Rika. So I had to skip the worship service, and deal with the pooch instead.
Later that night I was at work in the bakery. Megan was also working in there. Let me tell you a little bit about Megan. Everyone seems to like her. Certainly, the guys do. Megan is what many would refer to as a total "Babe," with awesome red hair. (And she will almost certainly beat me up after reading this.) Now, indeed Megan is a Babe, but what I find most attractive about her is her mind and her heart.
Megan loves Jesus. But she is not the stereotype that many who call themselves "Christians" are. She actually wants to THINK! She does not buy into a legalistic party line. She actually wants to learn and grow in her faith. (Yeah, I know, shocking) Megan pursues Jesus with her heart. I find that very attractive.
I was talking with Megan about skipping worship that morning, and how I hate that because it genuinely is a lot of fun. (How often do you hear someone describe going to church as being fun?) Anyway, I recalled a story I told her from a few days ago about something that happened to me in a book store.
About a week ago I was at the Mall of America and I went into the Border's Books there. I was looking in the religion section there. There was a young guy talking to another person about a book called "90 Minutes in Heaven." I was poking through the various books and I found a bunch of Donald Miller's books. So I grabbed "Blue Like Jazz," which I absolutely love, and showed it to him. We started talking and he asked me what church I go to.
I told him, "I don't go to church...because I am." It took him a moment and then he laughed and said, "Right. I get it."
The word in the Bible for church is Ekklesia. It can be translated as "The Gathering" or "The Fellowship." It in no way makes any reference to a building of any sort. Example: On top of the big hill overlooking downtown St. Paul is the big catholic cathedral. And that is exactly what it is, a cathedral. It is NOT a church. It is a building.
The Bible refers to anyone who follows Jesus as being a part of THE church. When you read through the book of Acts you never, ever read the phrase "And So & So went to the different churches in Jerusalem." No. Every reference to the church is as a singular entity made up of numerous Believers. It literally is to be viewed as a living, organic body of Believers with Jesus as the head on top of that body.
Paul constantly referred to Believers that way. In his letter to the Believers in Rome he wrote, "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." I think that is a beautiful way to refer to people who are called to love and support each other. I belong to Megan. Megan belongs to me. I belong to my friend Abe. I belong to Pastor Scott, to my friends Tom, Deb, Moy-Moy, Becky and Karl Koolboy...and to many others. And they all belong to me. Why? Because they are trying to follow Jesus, and so am I.
Paul wrote a letter to the body that was in Corinth because they were very dysfunctional. At one point in the letter, Paul goes on a chastising rant about how there should be unity in the church there. He uses the term Body, over and over again. Towards the end of his rant he tells them that "There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffer, every part suffers; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." Wow. I know this will not sound very eloquent, but I just think that idea is so cool.
The church in America is a lot like the church in Corinth. Sometimes the divisions I see just blow my mind. We fight over doctrines that are not nearly as important as learning to love and support each other. We fight over Predestination vs. Free Will as being central to the Faith, but then we gossip & slander like there is no tomorrow. At the same time, there is some stuff that is taught and preached that is just nonsense. Usually in the name of health & wealth. These are tough issues to wrestle with, and not very pleasant to watch. But I wish that we could learn to love each other. I think that is the most powerful witness that any Believer can have. It's interesting to me to notice that as soon as Paul is finished pleading with the Corinthians to unite, he immediately teaches them about love and what it looks like.
I found out that the modern word for church that we use in English actually comes from the Greek word Kyridakon. (I can't even pronounce that word) Apparently, it came in to usage in the 16th Century. It certainly has nothing to do with the New Testament.
In their book "Pagan Christianity," Gabe Lyons & Frank Viola point out that there were no such things as church buildings for the first few centuries of the church. It wasn't until the emperor Constantine legalized christianity in the Roman Empire that people started to build specific sights for people to worship in. Constantine was a huge promoter of this building program. He gave the church a favored status and even made the clergy a part of the government. I am of the opinion that legalizing christianity was the worst thing that ever happened to the church. If you look back at the history from that time, it seems like it's been mostly downhill from there.
At any rate, take this challenge: Change your vocabulary. If you are a person who attends a place of worship, do your best to never refer to it as a church again. Find other words to refer to it. You'll find that it's not an easy thing to do. From now on, try referring to other Believers as the church. If nothing else, it will be a fun head-trip to play on others.
And now you know why Megan and I do not go to church. You can't go to something you already are.
"The body is a unit, though it is made of many parts;
and though all it's parts are many, they form one body.
So it is with Christ.
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.
- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -
and we were all given one Spirit to drink."