by Aaron Weiss
The gathered church is a culmination of biblical instructions, cultural expressions, local preferences, and faithful traditions that can be helpful while also being problematic to who and what the church is supposed to be all about. Despite moving towards an increasingly post-christian culture, the concept of church still carries with it a fair amount of baggage and misconceptions. For many, the church is that old building grandma went to on Sundays and hosts community events during the week. If it’s not a building, the church is seen as an institution for others who recall fundraising campaigns to pave expansive parking lots and who knows what else. To others, the church has ecumenical baggage - representing a sort of top-down authority to keep people morally in line.
The original Greek word assigned to the church was ekklesia, which translates as an assembly or gathering. Not a building. Not an institution. Not an ethereal authority. For the New Testament, the church is represented as both the local gathering of Christian believers as well as a reference to a broader group of believers within a city, region, or throughout time. The church is a people who have come together in common faith and common purpose - to praise and honor Jesus. Understanding this is crucial to understanding who the church is ultimately for and disbanding the misconceptions which cripple the effectiveness of its community.
Here are a few of those misconceptions and their remedy.
The church is for you.
This is a timely word for a consumerist society which has wrongly made the experience of church a consumeristic one. Consider how fortunate and oblivious we’ve become to embrace the phrase “church shopping” in comparison to the first century church?! Our attendance and financial support to the gathering of our choosing has propagated an incorrect perception that the church is meant to satisfy me…
As a follower of Jesus, the church is not meant for you - you are meant for the church. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul refers to the church like a body functioning as a whole with many parts. No individual part can stand alone and hold its value. What good is an eye if it cannot share its seeing with the body? What joy is there in the body when the eye shares its sight? Believer, you are made for the body of Christ.
The church is for others.
This promotes an evangelistic bent that has merit while still missing the mark. For decades, this perspective has produced various forms of attractional methods intended to draw outsiders inside. Albeit well-intentioned, the aim of the church is not to make church more approachable or palatable to outsiders. If our first point describes an individual consumerist mentality, this poses a communal consumerism prompting the problematic question amongst believers, “how do we make church more enticing to unchurched people?” At times, the church functions like a bad cable provider offering free TV’s for first-time customers while virtually ignoring its long term customers for the sake of being “relevant” and “missional.” This may be an acceptable business model for some, but the church is not a business…
The church is not built with unbelieving attendees, it is built upon believers who have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to God’s marvellous light. That doesn’t mean that onlookers cannot watch from the shadows, but we cannot suggest that this advances or grows the church. The mission of the church is to be a light in the darkness which is rendered less-effective when we utilize spiritual dimmer switches to tone down the brilliance of Christ at work in his people.
The church is for everybody.
This misconception feeds upon a desire to be inclusive that wants to say there ought to be a little bit of something for everyone in church. This misconception totes balance - just enough bible for the bible-thumpers, visible tattoos for the next generation attendees, and religiously nondescript community groups for everybody else. When everybody is happy, everybody wins…
The church is not for us, the church is meant for Jesus. Scripture refers to the church as the bride of Christ - the church is for him. No-one attends a wedding and sees the bride, thinking, “it was nice of her to dress up for me… for others… for everybody else…” No, the bride is for her groom. Our gathering is for Jesus. Our going is for Jesus. Our growth is for Jesus. Why? Because the bride is for the groom as the groom is for his bride. The church is for Jesus because Jesus is for his church!
The next time you gather, put aside these misconceptions for the remedy that makes being part of the church as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day - the church is for Jesus because Jesus is most clearly and definitely for his church.