We often talk about ‘going to church’ having thought little of what this phrase means. Jesus never called us to ‘go to church.’ He called His people, His followers to ‘be the church,’ to follow Him. But what is the church?
A definition of ‘church’ that avoids much of the accumulated baggage of misunderstanding is simply ‘the people of God in Christ.’ When Jesus declared, ‘I will build my church,’ He was speaking about building ‘His community’, that is, about gathering a people who would be His followers and His witnesses, whose lives would be infused with His life and centred on Him – a community on His mission to the world.
The OT background for the word church is the solemn assembly or gathering, especially the assembly that gathered at Sinai (Deut 9:10; 10:4). They were gathered to hear the words of Yahweh, and to see His works. They were to witness and report to others the things seen and heard. It is this idea that is echoed in John’s first letter: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1)
What is that makes us the church -- the people of God in Christ? The presence of Jesus! Jesus expressed the essence of the church in the following saying: For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Mat 18:20). What is it to gather in His name? It means that we gather under His authority and that as a community we are all about living like Jesus, for Jesus and in the power of the Spirit of Jesus. This is the community of Jesus. The community of Jesus - the community of followers of Jesus is simply a manifestation of this life in Jesus. The community reality comes from following Jesus TOGETHER.We cannot be the community of Jesus (be the church) unless Jesus is the focus and centre of our life together. A loving relationship with Jesus is necessary and essential to His community – it is all about relationship with Him. Jesus said, ‘Without me you can do nothing.’ Yes, we need and enjoy each other, but we are HIS body. It is His Life that infuses His body. And so we follow Him and depend on His Spirit. We follow Him on mission, both individually and together – ‘I am being sent by Jesus to bless others and to invite them to follow Him.’ And we are learning to become like Him. We are plunging deeper into discovering what it is to love God and others. We are stretched and challenged. We fall short but we press on. We embrace His teachings and we help each other. This is ‘being the church.’ Through ears and eyes open to spiritual realities we have heard and seen Jesus. Through our spiritual senses we, too have looked at, and touched Jesus. We strengthen and encourage each other in following Jesus. We undertake larger and more enduring endeavours because of being a community.
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