We Are the Church?

“We don’t go to church, we are the church.”

This is the slogan of a growing number of Christians these days, many of whom are to be found inside, as well as outside, traditional Christianity.

It’s been repeated so many times now among certan circles that it’s become dogma. “I don’t go to church! How can I go to church, when I am the church? How can I go to myself?”

At first glance this seems totally plausible. And I would never say that it isn’t, to a degree, true. I went through a time when I was very strong in this proclamation myself. And not that I have moved away from it now, or that I have reverted back to the traditional view of the church as a building one goes to or an organization one belongs to (in the words of Paul, may God forbid!). But even still, I am beginning to take issue with this oft-repeated statement.

First of all, our english word “church” is a poor translation of the greek word from which it is derived. That word is ekklesia, and the most proper english translation of that word is “assembly.”

The assembly. That would be the best way, I think, to translate and read the word as it appears in our New Testament.

Many believers today who have left the “institution” are apt to make the statement, “We are the church.” They apply this term in a very general and unspecific way, referring to all believers in Christ in all the world, regardless of denomination, belief, ect. While there is much that is good about this viewpoint, there is also much that is lacking.

The main tack I take with the emerging view of “we don’t go to church, we are the church” is that it does little to encourage active participation in a local body of believers. People leave babylon only to wander around in the wilderness for the rest of their life, enjoying the Lord in a private kind of way and accepting fellowship “wherever they can find it”, but often only as it comes to them without the need for any personal committment or sacrifice.

I make these statements very hesitatingly, so please don’t misunderstand me. I have no intentions of judging anyone on their journey, for I know very well from personal experience that sometimes it is a good thing to be “out there” for a time by yourself, in order to rediscover your place in the God’s love and your place in His body, independent of the baggage acquired during your tenure in formal Christianity. And I’m also well aware of the fact that there are many dear saints out there who would love to have more regular fellowship with other believers who are pursuing Christ together, but they simply can’t find any. I understand these things, and I have no desire to lay down some kind of hard-fast rule that must always be applied and followed.

It’s just that I can’t get away from the glaringly obvious fact that the christian life is corporate. When I read the New Testament I see no other context for the living of the Christian life other than in community. That is, in a local, practical, tangible experience of the body of Christ. And the more I hear the mantra that “we don’t go to church, we are the church” the more I tend to wince these days.

Hmmmm. I’m not sure I’m making myself clear here, but I’ll continue. The greek word we have translated church is better translated assembly. Assembly. An assembly is a gathering of people. It is corporate. It’s more than one. It’s many together in one place.

No, it’s not a building. And no, it’s certainly not a denomination, or a religious organization of any kind. But it is a gathering. And what’s more, it is a local gathering.

I once counted the number of times the word “church” is used in the New Testament. In all but one or two instances it is used to refer to the local assembly of God’s people. Not all the believers in the world (as in the “universal” church), and not even all the believers in a certain place in a general kind of way. What it refers to is the gathering together of God’s people in a particular place. That is the assembly. That is the church.

When certain people started using the expression “going to church” in the second century, they meant, “I’m going to the gathering, or the meeting.” With the advent of “church buildings” and the degredation of formal Christianity, it wasn’t long after until the phrase began to morph into something entirely different, and people began to use it a lot more like you hear most people use it today, to say “I’m going to church” when referring, not so much to the assembly of believers, but to the building in which they are assembled.

I know, it’s a pretty subtle difference. And maybe you don’t even consider it worth noting. But there are massive numbers of people today who are leaving traditional Christianity, including the traditional practice of “going to church”, for various reasons, and I only fear that many of them, having left Babylon, will never in all their life make the full trek across and wilderness and really enter in to the purpose for which the Lord led them out, that they might find some other saints who have returned to Jerusalem and there begin to rebuild the house of God which is fallen down. And this, my friend, is a corporate venture. It takes a local, living, committed body of believers to engage in such a work. This, in my opinion, is something more than just floating around out there in the in-between place, revelling in the fact that I am not obligated to go to church anymore and God is not angry with me if I don’t. That revelation may be wonderful in itself, but it is not the ultimate end. God has a purpose, and it includes a “coming in” just as much as it does a “coming out.”

Consider it this way: Perhaps you’re a Christian. If so, you are a member of a new species upon this planet. A third race that is neither Jewish nor Gentile. And there is a habitat in which you are intended to live, one that suits your species perfectly. That habitat is called Ekklesia.

So, in conclusion, I am tending less and less toward the slogan “we are the church” these days. Not because it isn’t true that we are all members of the Body of Christ, and that that Body is a living organism-a “person”-and not a dead organization. But simply because it seems to be tending towards a kind of western, Christian individualism that, to me, finds no correlation in the scripture.

You’ll have to forgive me if I’ve spoken too harshly or out of turn with this post. All I’ve really meant to do is point out that the Christian life is corporate, and that really there is no other context for our pursuit of the Lord Jesus. Personally, this has been one of the greatest discoveries of my life.

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About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

18 responses to “We Are the Church?

  • Katie Wehrheim

    This really does make sense. and i guess when I read it, i think practically…like the here and now…my life. Without eachother, what DO we have. And how can we experience the uniqueness of Christ in one another if we don’t really know eachother, if we don’t really know what makes each person who they are…the nitty gritty. It definitely takes a lot to totally be a part of eachother’s lives…something I guess I’m still learning.

  • Douglas McCall

    Just a note. We ourselves as a part of the living “Church” seem to think that it is us as the living part, when it is actually Christ’s Spirit that is in us that is the “Living Part”, we tend to portray ourselves as the “Living Part” and not Christ when we are in the institutional church that gets us in trouble.

    I have been reading watchman Nee’s Life Study of Exodus that portrays the actual church as planks of the Church. Which to me seems to represent the actually building of the Church as a corporate identity.
    I also think we misunderstand God’s intention of fellowship of the Church as Fellowship with our fellow christians, I believe that fellowship that He is looking for Is Us as a Corporate Church. The town of Bethany is the perfect example of the Church, this is the only time that Christ was comfortable to rest and Fellowship!
    Great blog!

  • llamapacker

    I think you put it well. Those use those words to cop out, go off on their own, and fail to grasp the God-intended community are failing to see what God intended, a loving, witnessing body the represent Jesus. Can’t do it alone.

  • Marshall

    “we are the church” is corporate, and this much more than just an ekklesia-type assembly. While church-of-one and/or physical isolation has drawn some away from their daily corporate expression of Christ, the core of Christ in us (plural) remains and is being edified.
    Today, the English word “church” falters; life of community embraced. Let’s give everybody full opportunity to make the desert trek, while not inadvertently tuning anyone back.
    “Returning to Jerusalem,” we are prepared to have Christ build His ekklesia of these living stones; not arranged or tooled by human hands (as was done before Christ, and variously attempted with institutional church).
    Ever found disconnected from the universal church, any local gathering would only then exist as a sect.
    Possibly you have already taken note of more than one Greek Bible word for “church”, or more directly, to our gathering/assembly together? Beyond ekklesia, there is also sunagoge — gathering of the scattered, as from II Thessalonians 2:1, Hebrews 10:25, James 2:2. Yes, living as a member of the One body of Christ includes much more than the ekklesia facet.

  • Pati Donovant

    Hi Josh,
    Thanks for the post, it makes perfect sense to me. Your clarification is good. I’m curious, what would be your definition of Ekklesia?

    • lawdawg23

      I’d say the ekklesia is the local community of believers who live and gather together under the headship of Christ. Of course, that’s just one way of putting it. On another day I might phrase it another way. 🙂

  • Michael Young

    I agree with this, indeed. It’s not that I don’t like the statement, or the meaning. I just don’t like, as you said, the ‘dogma’ of it. It’s becoming one of those “churchy phrases” that people say because they’re supposed to. (If that makes any sense.)

    So, good point. I also agree with the fact that the church is also an assembly in a given place. Like the church at Jerusalem, or the church at Laodacia, or the church at Gainesville, Dallas, New York, etc. etc.

    Overall good post.

  • aaronkreider

    Good thoughts. I guess I would say that if we walk away from traditionalism, we need to be sure to “not forsake the gathering.”

    One thought / observation I wanted to add. About a week ago I was reading through Acts. I use a translation that renders ecclesia as “ecclesia” (imagine that). So I was in Acts 19 and got a surprise. Verses 23-41 are about a bunch of artisans (silversmiths I believe) who made a bunch of dough off of the temple of “artemis”. Well, they were angry at the disciples for ruining their profits.

    Three times in my bible it referred to the angry mob as “the ecclesia” and in one place it even says, “for the ecclesia was in confusion, and the majority were not aware on what account they had come together.”

    Wow. I was a little confused at first, then a bit pensive. So, the term ecclesia was not reserved for use only with believers. And, on top of that, those who assemble may not even know why they’re there. Interesting.

    This obviously doesn’t negate our need to gather together for fellowship. You can draw whatever conclusions you’d like… it was just interesting for me because it gave more insight into the meaning of the word that we often hold in such high regard as being “the gathering of saints”.

    I haven’t done this myself with the word ecclesia, but I think it would be interesting to look up every place the word was used in the original transcript… might give us more insight. 🙂

  • lawdawg23

    Yeah, it’s interesting. The word was originally used in reference to an assembly of Greeek citizens in a democratic state who had been “called out” to decide on the affairs of their community. Pretty neat when you think about it in that light.

  • randi :)

    I hear ya. I don’t want it to be just another phrase.

    I so want to be part of an ekklesia – a local assembly, that gathers… I just don’t want to do it in a traditional/’instituational’ way anymore – praying God leads us to others looking for the same.

    Thanks for challenging & sharing 🙂

  • lawdawg23

    Hey Randi, thanks for the comment. Where you from?

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