About this time last year, I asked, “When you say ‘church,’ what do you mean?“ I return to the question for a deeper look.
Church or Church or Church or Church
Is church a building your periodically inhabit? Is it an event you attend? Is it an organization to which you belong? Or is it a necessary part of your identity as an individual and as a community?
Nearly every Sunday of my life, I have gone to church (1) for church (2) with the church (3) as part of a church (4). That is a lot of “churches.”
Whatever do I mean?
- Church (1) is primarily a specific sort of physical structure—though this has varied greatly over the decades and centuries.
- Church (2) is primarily an event. In my Christian tradition (free church of the Baptist variety), the event consists of singing, listening to a sermon, participating in the offering, taking communion once a month, and, sometimes, an altar call.
- Church (3) refers to the persons who usually gather on Sundays in this church (1) for church (2).
- Church (4) includes those who have become members of a particular organization (usually incorporated under the laws of the state and having a constitution, by-laws, governing boards and paid staff. Sometimes those who regularly attend events participate, but are not formal members.
Of these four understandings, Church (3) comes closest to reality, but even this understanding is a dim reflection of reality. In Ephesians, Paul paints three portraits of the church that give us some clues to her glory in Christ: Body, Building, and Bride.
Everything the church is flows from and toward her connection with Christ. As his body, the church is his presence in the world. As such, the church does the will of her head and draws upon his power as she works in the world for his sake. As his body, she is the one new humanity, created and growing into the image of Christ, demonstrating God’s wisdom to the powers (Eph 3:10).
As God’s building, the church is and is becoming the dwelling place of God. Christ himself is the origin of the building, the source of power for the process of building, and the goal toward which the building grows. The church finds her shape in Christ, the chief corner stone. She is founded upon the teaching of his apostles and prophets. She is supplied with gifts and trainers that make the building process possible.
As bride, the church submits to and is loved by her husband, the Christ. The church willingly submits to Christ by choosing to be and to do for his good. Christ loves the church by choosing to be and to do for her good.