Church What is the church? If you were asked, what would you say?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary reminds us that our English word ‘church’ comes from Middle English chirche. Middle English inherited the word from the Old English word cirice. Back a few centuries ago when Old English was spoken, a cirice was a public meeting place. Cirice was a building. At the root of the English’s linguistic worldview is the understanding that the ‘church’ is a building.
Cirice is not a Biblical concept, although there are plenty of stories in which the early church met together. The apostles preached the Good News at the Temple in Jerusalem. Paul met Jews at the local synagogues throughout the Greco-Roman world. Hebrews commands his audience to not give up meeting together. That ‘meeting’ had to be held in a ‘place’. Although cirice is not Biblical, the injuction for Christians to meet together is.
The word for church in the Bible is ekklesia. It’s Greek. The lesia part stems from the words meaning ‘called’ or ‘summoned’. The ekk means ‘out’. Ekklesia is about being summoned out. What is helpful about this understanding of The Church? It is that the root has to do with our relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another. The Church is made up of called out ones because God has called out for Himself a “set apart” people. The word holy captures this nuance as well. Holy simply means set apart. Christ’s Body- The Church- is set apart because the Holy Spirit has been on a mission calling out people.
In order to start a new church, one needs to understand what is exactly that is being started. What’s being started is more than a meeting place. It’s more than a sanctuary, a stage, or even a pulpit. The Church is the people using these means to glorify God and to hear God’s grace over and over again. There are many cirices around that are now empty and sit as empty coffins. Many of these empty buildings are extravagant representations of a cultural Christianity that left the building (pun intended).
The Church is people. Buildings, pulpits, and parking lots are a means to an end. I’ll express it another way. The Church is on mission with the Holy Sprit to call out others to experience the grace of Christ. Buildings, pulpits, and parking lots are tools to be used along the way. They are important aspects of meeting places; however, buildings come and go. The Body of Christ will stand forever!
Do you think of ‘church’ as a building? Do you think of it as a time of the week? If you are a Christian, how can you stretch yourself into thinking that you embody the church wherever you are?