What is the Church?

February 18, 2012

Some of them stand with signs claiming that their venomous hate represents the God of the Universe. Some of them gather in buildings identified by signs and systems. Some of them claim the internet as their domain and their “flock”. Some of them stand and let signs and wonders flow forth as their claim to the name. So many people and groups claim the label “church”. It’s a small wonder our culture has so much confusion, and even venom about this poorly defined entity we call church.

Jesus stood with His closest friends and asked the question. “Who do you say that I am?”

After several answers about what the culture believed regarding Jesus’ identity, Jesus pushed a bit harder. “Who do you say that I am?”

The boldest one in their midst jumped up and answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!!”

Now Jesus begins to answer the question. Embedded in this dialogue we see Jesus has a clear sense of the answer to the question, “What is the church?” Listen to His answer.

“Peter, you don’t know this because you are smart and put the clues together (first of all recognize that Jesus answer implies that Peter answered the question correctly), rather you know this because Divine knowledge has passed through the veil and enlightened your mind to a truth that human intellect alone cannot perceive. In the same way, and on the same dynamic, I will build my church.”

One common translation says it this way.

“And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (NAS)

I understand all the different interpretations of this passage, and the various applications that have rolled down through the ages, but we cannot miss the dynamic.

The church is the individual and collective individuals through whom The Divine Presence of God the Creator crosses the veil and enters the Earth. Our role and assignment has not changed from the original design. We are the ones who carry the very Breath of God and distribute Life on the face of the earth as we re-present our Creator.

So many times our definitions are based either on what the church is not, or on what the church does or does not do. As a result we often contribute to the cultural confusion rather than clear it up.

Here are some common ways we talk about what the church is not. The church is not a building, the church is not an institution, the church is not a denomination. While all these things are accurate, simply knowing what the church is not ,may help us avoid some fallacies. However, the absence of deception does not necessarily equal the presence of Truth.

Then the discussion turns to what the church does or does not do. This is as common a misdirection with people as it is with the church. We often think that what we do is the same as who we are.

Part of this cultural distinction is based on the fact that today we tend to live by what we can see and touch, so it is easiest to define things in this way. Ironically, especially when it comes to the church, defining things by sight is the exact opposite of how the church is designed to operate.

Both Old and New Testament alike make it clear that by God’s definition the righteous will live by faith. Faith is defined as the very assurance of what we cannot see. Even Jesus in the above passage, defined the church as those who receive invisible spiritual input and breathe it into the visible rational realm.

A classic example of how defining the church by the visible can be a trap, is today’s almost rabid push to get the church to be more missional. While it is important that faith translates into action (in the same way it is important a coin have both heads and tails…) this current push toward mission is in many ways simply a pendulum swing to respond to a less missional church of decades past.

What if we succeed? What if through blogging and conferences we get those people claiming to be the church to go out and address the cultural issues of the day? What if we mobilize an entire army world-wide of people who begin to address social justice issues and in the process, we neglect to tell them to be certain that God is the source of all that they do, say, and think. The church is/are those people who have ceased from being their own source, and have been restored to the original source, the Tree of Life. When the Breath of Life is our source we will both know the Truth and do the Truth.

If we simply do good separate from our source, we are still operating from the good branch on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Defining the church by what we do, (study, justice, compassionate works) or what we do not do (smoke, drink, cuss, etc.) forces us into cultural definitions and judgments. We compare to see if another person or group has a list of do’s and don’ts that match our own. Why if we did this, we would end up with more division and conflict than unity. I hope we never do that. (Can I put a sarcasm emoticon in a blog post?)

What is the church? The church is those people who have in common the new birth. By this they have become a new creation individually and corporately. The church is the collective-ness of those who, also through the new birth have become the ones through whom invisible divine revelation crosses the veil to enter this theater known as Earth. The church is the gathering of people who have received God, contain God, and broadcast God to the world around them.

Don’t be misled, in the Garden, the Presence of God departed. No social justice program, missional thrust, gifted teaching, separate of the Presence of God can restore what the church is here to restore. No counseling, education, motivation, or inspiration separate of the Presence of God can restore the human soul. No hope exists for the future of our world separate of the Presence of God.

All that makes me uproariously glad that God makes Himself present in and through humans and then declares

“On this rock, I will build My Church!”

 

Note: I am excited because this post represents a shift as I move toward a projected late summer launch of my next book. While Think Differently Live Differently was directed toward a primarily non-church audience, the next book I feel is my life message toward the church. Pray with me as I continue to hear the Lord and capture these ideas for the next book!


  • Josiah C

    Blessings on your journey to pull together your thoughts and prose on what is, who is and where is the church… Catholic, Protestant, evangelical, Coptic, Mormon, Jehovah Witness, etc all claim to have relationship and experience connection to the Father, but obviously the HOW is very, very different. I look forward to keeping up with your blog and eventually your book!! We need “church” to be church.

  • http://www.thelifeandtimesofme.com Courtney

    Great post. I think when we stop comparing and start letting God lead, guide, and live through us . . . when we stop trying to “be good” and start looking to the source of goodness to transform us . . . then and only then will we be the church God created us to be. Can’t wait for your new book, and as a Christian, I love “Think Differently, Live Differently”.

  • http://amberlouthan.com Amber

    Dude!!! I am so in love with this post… with this book you’re writing… with the Church. Thank you for all you do, but more importantly for being who you are. It is absolutely an honor to be your friend. Praying for you with great expectancy, and looking forward to the next stages of your ministry with great hope! Lovelovelove!!!!!

  • http://www.livingdivine.org kerrie oles

    Bob….this is Amazing…truly.
    “No counseling, education, motivation, or inspiration separate of the Presence of God can restore the human soul..” I love that sentence…its truly the truth, and the truth will set people free! Can’t wait for the world to read your n ew book!! Soooooo honored to sit under your teaching…be blessed in all your endeavors…

  • Ron Pyle

    Bob, very compelling message. This is particularly timely, given the cultural and political divide in our society. Many believers are finding themselves ill-equipped to articulate their faith and represent the Church. Thank you for continuing to encourage us all to “think differently’.

  • Leigh-Ann Jones

    Wow…good stuff! It’s all about Jesus! Not what we can but who He is. Can’t wait to see what else you’ve got to say about this.

  • Bill Tongue

    Most excellent! I’m gonna borrow the following:
    “If we simply do good separate from our source, we are still operating from the good branch on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
    And the church needs reminding of this often: “We often think that what we do is the same as who we are.” Thus “I’m just an old sinner saved by Grace” may be one of the most unbiblical things you’ll hear believers say.
    My only concern may be elevating works too high by calling it the co-equal other-side-of-the-coin to faith. Perhaps the foundation/house metaphor is better. Faith is the foundation, works is built on that, and only works emanating from that foundation will stand the test of eternity…after all, it is God who is really at work within us…

  • http://www.beautifully-chaotic.com Melissa Aulds

    This post totally sums up what I believe about the church and why I can say without hesitation that i find the church beautiful and am one of her biggest fans. Because it’s not a building or a preacher or a certain denomination; the church is us, it’s people. People who may be weak but it’s in our weakness that Jesus is seen as strong. In our flaws His perfection is all the more evident… and it’s so beautiful and freeing…

  • http://scottprickett.com Scott Prickett

    Thank you for the bold message calling us to ensure that He is the center of the things that we do in His name. It seems that when we, as sons and daughters, relate to Him and are transformed by that relationship then our lives will immediately become missional. When we are different, people will know as He bubbles out of us in our attitudes, actions and reactions. We will go only as He leads and enjoy the relationship with Him as we do the things that He invites us into.

  • David

    GREAT POST!!! Thanks again Bob for great insight on what the “rock” that the church is built on actually is, Loved TDLD cant wait for your next book!

  • http://marissstar.com Marissa Star

    “tell them to be certain that God is the source of all that they do, say, and think. The church is/are those people who have ceased from being their own source, and have been restored to the original source, the Tree of Life. When the Breath of Life is our source we will both know the Truth and do the Truth.”

    Wow. love. truth.

    I believe we get glimpse … we see people … really getting it {LIFE} in God … and then a few of them get together and {LIFE} becomes {LIFENESS}, then really cool {LIFE-GIVING} stuff happens and it becomes contagious because our hearts leap because we know deep inside it’s what we were made for all along …

    We see the church being a bride and we can’t help see why Jesus is so in love with her … I guess that’s why I just really love this post. You capture that perfectly with your words … words said only the way you can say them!

    Can’t wait for the book … fabulous way to tease your readers … you so accomplished that.

  • Carrie Belshe

    Bob, Loved this. Want to get another copy of TDLD for my daddy. But how come no matter how many times I sign up for email notices of blog posts, it never works. I am not always on Facebook so I’d like to know by email when you post. I will contact you after payday about buying Daddy your book. YOU know why he should read it, and he turns 70 on the 4th. We should discuss this Daddy thing in an email if you can find time. Love you OLD MAN!

  • http://www.michellebentham.org Michelle Bentham

    This statement is so powerful Bob… If only individual believers would grasp the true commission of the church – that is individual and corporate and so eloquently stated in this way: “The church is the individual and collective individuals through whom The Divine Presence of God the Creator crosses the veil and enters the Earth. Our role and assignment has not changed from the original design. We are the ones who carry the very Breath of God and distribute Life on the face of the earth as we re-present our Creator.”

    Excited about your new endeavor! Hoping God causes an revelation of His truth and breathes on this project in such a way that the CHURCH is changed forever! Both individually and corporately. :)