We visited Church on the Queensway yesterday and were moved by a wonderful worship experience. I love the church. I love the idea of church. I love the mission of the church. The word “church” creates a host of diverse images. To some, a church is a building. To some, church is The Church; an institution. To still others, church is equivalent to a one-hour worship assembly (often unfortunately perceived as irrelevant and boring). Some have happy memories of “church” and some have tragic memories. Perhaps the best description of the church in action is found in Acts 2.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47, NIV).
This is a wonderful and inspiring paragraph in Scripture. It speaks of worship and devotion. It reflects selfless mission and compassion. It tells about spiritual growth and training. It describes internal harmony as well as external reputation resulting in growth and expansion. This passage does not define the church, but it does describe its activities. I define the church in a simple and straightforward way: The Church is a spiritual community organized to do God’s will.
The word “church” is a Greek word that simply means “called out ones” (ecclesia). It is a people; a community; a gathering. When we place our trust in Christ, we became part of this community. It is a spiritual community that welcomes all who want to discover and follow Jesus by faith. It is a spiritual community for people of all ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds. It was never understood as a building. It was always people. In fact, in the writings of Paul, we have the church most often described as a “body”; a living community.
The word, “organization” can be a rich, meaningful word, but it can also create images of hollow structure, empty traditions, and legalistic rules. All organizations risk becoming institutionalized over time. Unfortunately, the history of the church is no exception. Being aware of this propensity should help safeguard against institutionalism, and we should not fear being organized.
As an organized community, the church does have structure. It requires leadership. It has a mission. It initiates plans. It gathers to meet for worship and education. We may debate the nature and parameters of that organizational structure, but four or five people having lattes at a coffee shop once every few months does not constitute a church.
And…what is the churches’ mission, purpose, or reason to exist? Its purpose is embodied in two great statements: The Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The Acts 2 church understood this. It was a spiritual community organized to do God’s will. In this community, we find friendship, encouragement, ministry, care, and challenge. We become a part of something larger, and more meaningful. We have a community; a family with which to face the challenges of life and offer service to a needy world.
Why do I offer such a foundational review of a biblical ecclesiology? Well – two reasons. First, while we are not a local church, we are a part of the church; an arm of the church; a servant to the church. At its highest level, we share the very same mission. Yes, Briercrest is three schools, but we too are a “spiritual community organized to do God’s will” – realizing the great commandment and the great commission in our world! We dare not lose sight of this. Second, I share this because the church is most often described as a “body”. I want to build our understanding of the systemic nature of organizations – but this will be for another day.
Serve well today. We are doing God’s work.