As we continue to zero in on a church to call home it’s time for us to move beyond first impressions.
[Warning: Soapbox Ahead]
Music preferences, building styles, and preaching outlines are only a small part of what matters. How ironic, though, that those things are what often split a church. The sign at a local church reads, “We’re not fighting each other”. While I’m glad they aren’t fighting each other I can’t help but wonder why they thought that was the most important message they could communicate. Have churches gotten such bad reputations that we need to advertise we aren’t fighting?
So, what am I looking for in a church that moves beyond first impressions?
First, I’m looking for a church. . . . Kinda obvious, I know. . . But I’m looking for a church in the New Testament sense.
I know that seems fundamental. After all, isn’t that what I’ve been blathering about for the past couple of months?. . . Looking for a church?
Well, it depends on what you mean by “church”.
We use the word “church” so easily. It fits our vocabulary nicely. “Did you enjoy church today?” Isn’t that a nice church building?” “What kind of church do you attend?” But the New Testament rarely uses the word “church” in such a way. It has taken a word that was common and made it extraordinary.
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery has this to say about the word “church”:
The Bible provides a rich kaleidoscope of imagery about the church composed of around one hundred metaphors and statements. The thread on which all other jewels are hung is the idea of the church as an ekklēsia (“assembly,” “gathering”). This word, taken from common usage where it applied to the “calling out” of citizens for a civic meeting or of soldiers for battle, is used extensively throughout the Old and New Testaments to refer to the people of God (e.g., Deut 4:10; 9:10; 31:30; Mt 16:18; 18:17; Acts 5:11; Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:22; 3:10; Heb 12:23).
The word that first century Christians adapted was originally used to talk about any gathering of people. It was a common word. It didn’t have any spiritual connotations.
I’m afraid when we talk of church what we really are talking about is a group of fellow citizens gathering for a meeting. It could be ANY meeting for ANY purpose. We could gather for a meal. We could gather for philately reasons. We could gather to be entertained. We could gather for group therapy.
It seems to me (in my very judgmental–but mostly accurate opinion) that MOST churches are little more than gatherings of people who simply like being together. We enjoy the same kind of music. We have similar political views. We want someone to entertain our teenagers. We may even have a somewhat Christian worldview. But really the main reason we get together is little more than to be together.
We get upset if someone sings a song we don’t know or like. We complain if the preacher calls for too big of sacrifice from us. We don’t like someone else sitting in our seat or parking in our spot. We don’t want too many new people around because it will change things. And we certainly don’t want people around who haven’t learned the same morals we profess; after all, they may be a bad influence on our kids.
The New Testament came to use the word church in a much deeper, more significant way. Yes, it still used the word at times to talk of a gathering of people. But the heart of what the New Testament meant by church is probably far different than what most churches look like today.
I’ll have more to say about that in my next post. But suffice it to say for now, most of the places I see today that call themselves churches, really aren’t.
And those are NOT the kind of places I’m looking for in a church home.