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!