Christians do Church. Some more regularly than others!
Why on earth do we commit ourselves to regularly going to Church? To answer that, let’s first think theologically about ‘church’.
What is ‘Church’?
Presumable if we are to be members of church, we need to understand what Church is!
Very simply, Church is an assembly of God’s people.
It is a place where there is a distinction between God’s chosen people and those who reject God.
To get a little technical, the word for ‘church’ in our English Bibles is a translation of the Greek word ekklisía – two Greek words joined together: kaleo meaning ‘to call’ and ek meaning ‘out’. As so the word ‘church’ is really trying to capture the idea that a group of people are ‘called out by God’ to join together as his people.
Whilst it is a place where the stranger can be addressed and welcomed, it should not be a place where their influence should be allowed to be greater than God’s influence.
It is a family. It is a place where the people of God, serve him and others before themselves for his glory.
Universal vs Local
When you look at the idea of ‘church’ the New Testament shows both a universal (or wide) shape and a local (or narrow) shape.
Jesus speaks of the universal church, when he said to the disciple Peter in Matthew 16:18 ‘I will build my church’. It is likely that he did not have in mind a specific local church located somewhere in Jerusalem but rather that he would build together all those in the years to come, who would be his followers, the members of his body – his universal church.
The apostle Paul addresses the universal church (ekklisía) in Colossians 1:24 when he says he ‘suffers for the sake of Christ’s body, which is the church’ and then to Timothy when he speaks of ‘God’s household, which is the church’ (1 Timothy 3:15). The writer of Hebrews speaks of ‘the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven’ in Hebrews 12:23.
As members of Christ’s body, members of his household, Christians should see themselves as family members together. The worldwide body of believers who meet in various locations and times around the world and across the generations who all profess faith in Jesus as Lord.
Our brothers and sisters who are fleeing for their lives from the Islamic state fighters in Iraq and Syria, those who are on the mission field, those who meet as Christians around Australia, and those that meet in the churches in suburbs around Adelaide – are all members with us of the universal church – because we all have the same Lord and Saviour in Jesus.
And scripture testifies to the importance of being part of the universal church where we stand shoulder to shoulder with others in faith – even though we may not speak the same language, be from the same culture, have the same life styles, or live in the same kinds of material circumstance.
There is something really special being part of a bigger picture!
But scripture also testifies to the local church.
Paul address the local ‘church of God’ (ekklisía) in 1 and 2 Corinthians (’to the church of God in Corinth’ v2 & v1), 1 & 2 Thessalonians (’to the church of the Thessalonians’ v1 and v1), and to the Galatians (‘to the churches in Galatia’ v2). In Colossians he sends a greeting to ‘Nympha and the church in her house’ (Colossians 4:15). There is a very particular local church (or set of local churches in the case of Galatia) which he has in mind.
When we meet as the 5pm Church family, we meet expressing our membership in a local church, following in the footsteps of those first Christians who met in the wake of Jesus life, death and resurrection. And our meeting together is in turn a testimony to our membership in the universal church.
As Christians, it is important to recognise both the universal and local church.
Here is why that is important:
- For one, quite obviously, there are many more Christians in the world than would be able to meet in our space – but there is a time coming when we all will gather around the throne of Christ at the end of time and worship as the full church.
- That also means that there are more Christians across the generations (past and present) who will gather together all in Christ eternally.
- It is a wonderful blessing to recognise our place alongside so many others in Christ.
- Yet, it also matters that we meet together as a specific local church, on a regular basis to serve God and others.
- For now, Christians cannot all gather as the universal church to hear the Bible taught and proclaimed, to baptise new believers, to sing songs of praise, to take the Lord’s Supper together, to reach out to the community around them, to serve one another, to hold one another accountable, to physically care for, to urge one another on towards love and good deeds.
- Meeting in local churches is important for the life and well-being of all Christians as we help one another grow in Christian maturity.
What should we expect of our ‘church’? – is the next question. Why you would leave a ‘church’ will follow. Stay tuned for the next update!
Looking forward to another year together proclaiming the gospel of our Lord to love and know God better, to serve him and others, as we work to grow God’s kingdom.