Face it: if one has no clear conception of what it is that Christ’s purpose is in ‘calling out’ a people—which is what the very word church means, i.e., “a people called out”—then it doesn’t really matter what you consider the church to be. I deliberately intend to be redundant in these blogs in stating that a majority of the folk with whom I have had conversations over many years, and people who profess Christian faith (whose faith I do not doubt), and declare their appreciation for ‘the church’ … have never stopped long enough to look at why it exists in the first place. It is just ‘what is’ and so we are expected to accept that, and reproduce it, no matter how dysfunctional, rudderless, or unaware of Christ’s intent. They accept ‘what is’ as the norm.

But that won’t do. After Christ declared, upon Peter’s affirmation that he (Jesus) was God’s messiah, that he was going to build this new entity (and he used a word common for the calling of a community for any number of reasons) … he went on to make that provocative and enigmatic statement: “ … and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). That means that there is to something intentionally aggressive about this new community. It is to be God’s agent in assaulting the rebellion that has corrupted God’s creation. The church can never be passive about that.

But in the passage of time, the church has been distracted and subverted time and again. It becomes something of a “God in a box”—a place where religious rites are performed by religious professionals, and where the participants are lulled into spiritual comfort and only expected to participate in the ‘churchy’ activities, which take place inside the box, alas! Occasionally some will shake off this sleep of deception and seek to call the church back to its purpose, to a revival of its dynamic sense of calling.

Again, the tragedy is that so many, probably a majority, have no ears to hear this—they have no capacity to imagine anything other than what they have experienced ‘in the box.’ They can only conceive of the institutional box, the professional clergy, and helpful spiritual experiences, but do not connect these with what God has called every one of his people to be and to do.

Yes, the church is called to gather together, but for a purpose. The gatherings are around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and around all of his teachings. “The word of Christ is to dwell richly/abundantly” (Colossians 3:16) among all who compose that gathering. They are to gather to regularly observe the Eucharist so that they don’t lose the core of what Jesus came to be and to do. But … the purpose of those gatherings to so that all of the people of God will be regularly equipped, encouraged, and refreshed to be God’s called-out people, God’s Kingdom people, God’s New Creation demonstration in all of “stink and stuff,” all of the vicissitudes, of the human community still inhabiting the darkness during the other six days of the week—our calling is to be Christ’s people on the other six days. That is where we are to be faithful. That is where we are to be the incarnation of God’s New Creation—not “in the box.”

But it takes the energizing of our minds by the Holy Spirit to get this. The New Testament documents give very little information about the form of the church, but it is relentless in telling us about its dynamic mission. It is always energized to be the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity. Its goal is to become a “beautiful Bride for the Lamb.” It is to be the demonstration of a whole new and beautiful way of living and behaving. It is to demonstrate the awesome love that produces reconciled relationships that are visible and convincing. It is not mushy or merely ‘religious’ in is raison d’ètre, but rather it is a community of light that is always in missionary confrontation with the dominion of darkness. God lives in his people—not in a box erroneously designated as a ‘church.’ The true church has a passion for the fulfillment of Christ’s mission, which takes on multiple forms as it obeys.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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