“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.