Simple Church Basics - Part 1: What Is Church? Print
Friday, 27 April 2007 23:49

Our first challenge in grasping what God intends church to be, is to stop looking at it through the lens of our background and through the lens of 2,000 years of "church" as a formal institution.

Dee Hock says:

"The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it."

So our first challenge is to de-program old definitions and wrestle with some accurate new ones.

Let's start with a basic New Testament definition of church. The Greek word for "church" is "ekklesia" which simply refers to those who were "called out" for an assembly or meeting. It was a non-religious word. It just referred to a group of people. In this case, the group of people who were followers of Jesus.

It really is and must be that simple!

Church is not an organization, building, or meeting of any kind. It's simply a group of people who follow Christ.

Jesus used a common word when he said, "I will build my church." It was not a religious word. It simply meant a called out group, or crowd, or fellowship, or assembly. So we can use the word church when it communicates what we are saying, but we can also use the word fellowship, or gathering, or brethren, or saints, or disciples. It simply means a group of people. (Robert Fitts -DAWN ministries)

It's very helpful to define "church" clearly. The temptation is to go around this issue and ask secondary questions: "How is church expressed?" "What will the gathering of believers look like when they come together?" But these are secondary questions!! We must be clear first of all what church is, then and only then can we understand how church is to be expressed.

Church, in essence, is simply a collective group of followers.

Consider this definition of church:

A loose-knit network of Jesus followers who gather together to encourage each other in their spiritual life and who go out, moved by the Holy Spirit, sharing and demonstrating the Gospel.

Loose-knit. Not formal membership, just a love-commitment to God and each other.

Jesus followers. The basic requirement for membership in the church.

Who gather together. Gathering to build one another up and to worship.

Who go out. The purpose of believers... to GO with the message.

Moved by the Holy Spirit. The one and only LEADER of the church.

Sharing and demonstrating the gospel. The reason that the church GOES.

Neither the church gatherings, nor the church's "goings" had to have anything other than believers + the Holy Spirit. Nothing else was necessary for church to be church. Sometimes apostles were present, many times not. Sometimes elders were present, many times not. The church really is the followers of Jesus who engaged in gathering and going.

Taking this further, if we really get into a New Testament perspective, we see that the church was a "movement." The church was not a box for this movement to fit in, nor a structure to contain it. The church, the collective group of people following the Spirit of God, was simply that- a group of people who were being moved by the Spirit. However and wherever the Spirit took His people, gathered His people, or sent His people, church was happening!

Church was fluid, going everywhere, gathering everywhere, ministering everywhere, being the Body of Christ everywhere. All of this was and is "church."

Once we grasp this, we can go on to the issues of: "How is church expressed? What does it look like when the church gathers?"

Robert Fitts suggests that we begin with the simplest possible expression of church: two or three gathered in Christ's name (Matthew 18:20):

What Is A Church? If we take away all the non-essentials, we would have Jesus and at least two people who have come together in His name. Two people, who have been born again, meeting together anywhere, at anytime, with Jesus in the midst, is church at its most basic, most informal level. (The Church in the House).

This is a good starting point for looking at how church is expressed. It's simple. It can be two or three. When a husband and wife gather at home (two or more), it is church.

Going beyond that, we find in Scripture many diverse expressions of church. When people gathered for prayer, they were the church. When Christians gathered around the supper table, it was church. When a group gathered to share songs and interact with the Word, it was church. Period. Not second rate church. Just church. The Presence-of-Jesus-in-the-midst church. Every gathering of Christians=church. Every instance of Christians "going" into the world-church.

Expressions of church, since it is the expression of people gathering and going under the movement of the Spirit, can be as varied and diverse as people themselves.

Two missionaries sharing the Good News in an igloo in Greenland-church. Christian friends enjoying fellowship around shislik-church. Real church. Full-on church. No more and no less "real church" than any organized church meeting.

Does this shake up our view of church? Is this a real expression of church? Have we even begun to grasp how diverse church can really be?

Does any of this really matter?

Perhaps. Many seem to feel that the box we now call "church" isn't working! It has robbed the Holy Spirit movement of its life and power.

Check out these statements:

Alan Creech says that we need to understand and do church differently because there is a "deep lack of real transformation going on in the Body of Christ."

Reggie McNeal says: "A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith."

My own quote: "Today, we usually see structure define what the church is. In this context, there is no room for the full and rich diversity of the movement of the Spirit through God's people... Could this be the reason that we are not seeing the glory of the Lord cover our neighborhoods and nations?

And: "Church-as-we-know-it has become a box to live within, not a movement to participate in."

From House Church Blog Website