Well, not a very descriptive title for this post! Thinking a lot about what it “is”, this thing called “Church” . . . there are a few references in scripture (not many actually), but the word in Greek literally means “community of the called out ones”.
Community – this is challenging! community for me is about being together, about building something and people being part of something, belonging. Yet, we are also “resident aliens” (a very good book by Hauerwas is here if you want a more detailed look at that) – how do we live in this tension of “being apart from” whilst also being “welcoming”? A bunch of churches have a strap line which reads, “In the community for the community” (I don’t know any churches that have the strap line, “in the community for the community but not of the community”. That would be weird! The thing is, coming in and discovering this community thing called “Church” should be transformative . . the life of Christ, filling the community with His presence, when we turn to Christ we become “new creations” the old has gone, something new has come . . . the thing is – and I am thinking this about church in general – it is not our worship practice that transforms us. How we worship, or choose to worship does not transform us, whether I raise my hands in sung praise or not – this does not transform me; sitting through a 40 minute exegetical sermon does not transform me; having communion regularly does not transform me – these activities can only be transforming, renewing, restoring if the Spirit of God is present and we are expectant and we say “yes” to him working in our lives. Everything can be ritual for rituals sake – but rituals do not transform us. The problem for us too, in this community, is that we allow our different practices to define “belonging” . . . “you are welcome to come in, just learn to “worship” like us” . . . I don’t want to be like you in your worship, I want to be like me in my worship – and, I also don’t want to become like you (nice though you might be), I want to become like Christ!
Called Out – which brings us to this “called out” thing. Christ likeness is the most blindingly obvious way in which we should be marked as different. Only Jesus Christ managed to make those who society (often religious society) had rejected feel that they absolutely belonged in his presence. He lived a perfect life, was not influenced or corrupted by the rubbish around Him and remained a friend of sinners (people like you and me), yet sometimes our way of being called out seems to be the almost opposite of what Jesus did. We define ourselves in a way that even has us not mixing with others in the CHURCH because they don’t worship like us or have out doctrine . . . where on earth did we see Jesus model this? Across his disciples (12 of them being a pretty significant number . .. and so much more important than their gender – but that is a whole other discussion) were a whole bunch of very different Jews, these guys would not have met each other apart from Jesus, and apart from Jesus would not have wanted to associate with each other – we don’t pick up much of this tension, as what they all held in common was being called to Jesus . . . we get hung up on the called out . . . being separate from, when we should be focusing on the being called to . . . being united with Jesus.
A community then, becoming more like Christ and calling others to join us as Christ calls them too . . . wow, that is something amazing to be part of.