Sunday, March 11, 2007

When Church is only a Word...

Some of you know that my wife and I are going full-time with a new ministry project in Auburn, Alabama. As we are beginning to talk to a lot of people who are asking us what we are going to do, it has been a difficult journey trying to get our vision across without being forced into a corner that defines our work as just another new church in town. I don't mind being just another church in town to those who understand church to be the "called out people of God who share a life of faith together and encourage one another to do the hard work of building the Kingdom that God has assigned and equipped them to do". I am happy to be known as just a new church in town to the people who can comprehend the meaning as broken people who are a little farther along in the journey of faith living their lives in such a way that others can follow in their footsteps and find healing in the mercy of Christ. However, the people who comprehend church in those terms are few and far why use the phrase if it's just another word?

Actually, no word is just a word! Words lend themselves to communication. Communication is not only words. As a matter of fact, words are probably the least important element of communication. Communication is not what I say (words), but how others hear it (understanding). This includes other elements, such as body language, past experiences, assigned meaning, etc... So, I've been a little confused about how to communicate the vision to which God has assigned us. I took some time over the past couple of days to try to figure out how to do that.

The word "church", as some of you know, is translated out of the New Testament from the Greek word ekklesia. That word comes from two words...ek, meaning "out from" and kaleo meaning "called out". The literal meaning of ekklesia is "those who are called out from". Well, interestingly enough, ekklesia (church) was a secular Greek term. It most commonly referred to a gathering together of citizens in a town for the purpose of taking care of public business. It was a relatively common word in New Testament culture. Jesus only used it two times to refer to his followers. The most familiar usage by Jesus was in Matthew 16:18... 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Now, this term had not at all been used as a religious term up to this point, so we have to understand Jesus' usage in the context of the Greek language during the life of Christ. It wasn't a magic term that Jesus pulled out of his hat to become a sacred word that could only be used by God's people. It was just simply a word! In light of this, we could assume that Jesus was saying something like this..."you are Peter, and on this rock I will gather my people together and the gates of hades will not overcome them." So Jesus used this term to refer to the gathering together of those who have been "called out from". Called out from what? Well, we're not really sure, but we have some clues. We know that Jesus had every intention to call people out of their old life and into a life of faith. However, I think maybe Jesus was talking about something else here.

Notice a very important word that comes just before the word church in this passage. The word is My (capitalized). It is almost as if Jesus is saying, this will be MY gathering of people. He was speaking to Peter who became the leader of the New Testament followers of Christ. The disciples experienced a gathering together every Sabbath (which by the way was Saturday at the time). What was Jesus talking about? I believe that he chose Peter to be the leader of a "new gathering". One that would happen outside of the current religious gatherings in the Synagogue. This "gathering" would not be one of religious people only, but one of Christ-Followers. I believe that Jesus appointed Peter to gather Christ-followers together outside the meetings of the Jewish Synagogue. Jesus was simply assigning Peter a task.

Now, to complicate matters, the word church stuck for the meetings taking place in the disciples homes. However, it eventually faded out of the Greek language. So...this word became known as a religious term only. A word that simply referred to a gathering together of a group of people began to take on a meanign of it's own.

As time passes, the meaning of words changes. For example, the word target used to be an intended goal or something a person would aim for. Now it has an additional meaning. Some of you think of Target as a department store that is giving Wal-Mart a run for it's money. We assign meaning to words and that meaning often changes over time. So, what have we assigned to the word church?

At least in the heart of the South church often means a building, 11:00-12:00 on Sunday, a network of comittees who loosely work together to make decisions that direct a group of people, and various other things that are neither good nor bad. In some instances, those who have had positive experiences in the church percieve the word as a group of people living a life of faith together. However, most people who are not followers of Christ understand the word to mean the place where the dishonest preacher works (thanks to all of the media stories over the past 30 years), the place where you have to be like everyone else to fit in, the most boring hour of the week, or any number of negative thoughts and feelings.

You may understand that with a word that has become so complicated it is very difficult to cast a vision. The word itself can be a barrier blocking spiritually dead people from getting to Jesus (more on this in my next blog).

So what does a man do? Well, I'm going to try some different words. Do I dislike the word church? Absolutely's one of my favorite words in the English language because it refers to the "bride of Christ", of which I am a part. Unfortunately, communication is not what I say, it's what others "hear". So, I'm going to try "community of faith" or "spiritual community" or something like that. If you have any suggestions please let me know.

Anyway, for those of you who hear me use the word church, here's what I mean:

1. Sharing Spiritual Life with others.
2. Sharing in the work of an active God.
3. Striving to understand absolute truth.
4. Living in Community with other believers.
5. Sharing transparent and open relationships with other believers.\
6. Experiencing the creativity of the community in worship and learning.
7. Being spiritually relevant to those who don’t know Jesus
8. Having an open-arm stance toward ALL people
9. Being God’s Hands and Feet in our community, city and the world.
10. Creating an environment of hope for all who visit our assembly.

Now you know...

Oh and by the way, there's a few other meaningless absolutes that we've assigned to God's miraculous life-changing work on Earth. A few of those include...meeting on Sunday mornings only, building a life of faith together around one hour per week, living under harsh expectations for what we wear when the Body gathers together, etc... We're going to think about those things too.

What if serving God in community could just be serving God in community? What a novel concept.

Just a thought...



Will said...

Do comments work?

What do you think of rhetorical questions?

So, what does Jesus call his followers mostly, as revealed in the Gospels?

Kevin Beasley said...

Great Question Will. I haven't studied this as of yet, but I will definitely keep it in mind. A brief look at a few scriptures yeilded the following:

my servants
not of the world (Jn. 15:19, 17:14)
friend (jn 15:14)
blessed (beatitudes)

This is a tremendous question. You should do a study and let me know what you find.

Kefira said...

This is great info to know.