No sooner had I finished writing yesterday’s post than I realized again how easy it is to misapply that word “church”. Maybe this is something you never wrestle with, but I sure as heck do. Nowadays there are so many definitions for that word that it’s hard to tell what is really what when it comes to most precious thing in the earth to the Lord. But that is just what the church is, the most precious thing in the world to God. She is His pearl of great price, and He gave everything He had to obtain her.
But what do most people think of when they hear the word “church”? I shudder at the very thought! For most people it represents one of a few things, and I have the testimony of Webster’s dictionary to back me up here. Daniel Webster recognizes the church as one of the following:
3-a religious system of beliefs and practices
And as far as common misconception goes, I think Mr. Webster is right on. These are probably the first things that come to mind when most people hear the word “church.” Though I might add a fourth option. Some people will say that the church is the sum of all those who have ever been saved. This is a whole lot closer to reality than the first three, and it represents more of the “universal church” kind of thought.
Interestingly enough, though, in all but a few instances in which the word “church” is used in scripture, it nearly always refers to the local assembly of those who follow Christ. One, it is local. Two, it is a gathering. And three, it consists only of those who are indwelt by Christ Himself.
And yet it goes even farther than that. I would never dare to say that any group of people who are gathering together as a church and seeking to follow God’s will are illegitimate simply because they lack (or have) certain characteristics that I think a church should have (or have not). And generally I tend to agree with Ernest Loosely, that “to define is only too often to divide.” However, given the mass confusion that arises every time this word is used, and the lack of a common point of reference between Christians of so many different theological stripes, I sometimes think it is necessary to clarify what I mean when I say “church.”
I believe the Lord is stirring the spirits of some in our day to return and rebuild an expression of the house of God as she once was. In essence, He is calling us to return to the “ancient paths” just as He called out to Israel through Jeremiah centuries ago. But when I say “old paths” or “ancient paths” I’m not talking about how they did church back when grandma was growing up. (That’s the only way I ever heard that thought applied in church services in the past.) No, I’m talking about a path much older than that, one that has rarely been trod since our brothers and sisters of the first century blazed the trail so long ago.
I’m talking about real, face-to-face community living. I’m talking about leadership that is bottom-up rather than top-down. I’m talking about meetings that are led only by laymen. I’m talking about recovering a vision of God’s eternal purpose in Christ, one that burns like a fire and gives life and meaning to all that we are and do as the Lord’s people.
I would challenge you to take an honest look at your own conception of what the church is. Is your view of the church essentially positive? Or do you still see the church as an institution that has done nothing but hurt God’s people and get in the way of what He is really after? The only way we will ever see the church for what it really is is to be flooded with a revelation of Jesus Christ. And the only way we will ever begin to experience real church life with other believers is to daily touch and experience His life within us. Today let us make this our only aim, and may our conception of the church be cleared up in the process.