5f: WHAT IS CHURCH? Church or Christ? Institution or Community?

York City:

York is a walled city in northeast England that was founded by the ancient Romans. Its huge 13th-century Gothic cathedral, York Minster, has medieval stained glass and 2 functioning bell towers. The City Walls form a walkway on both sides of the River Ouse. The Monk Bar gate houses an exhibition tracing the life of 15th-century Plantagenet King Richard III.

York Cathedral:

Prayer has been offered here  to God for nearly a 1000 years.  Minsters were one of  the earliest ecclesiastical centres founded in  England, a type of monastery. They were missionary stations, served by a group of  monks,  often  in  the  early  days  by  nuns  also, leading a communal and celibate life. Some, if not all of the monks were ordained. There were two kinds of minsters:

  • Head minsters …. Very much like the cathedrals
  • Old minsters …. Often called mother churches serving  the  needs of extensive  These were often founded by kings  to  serve their  widespread estates  and  abbots  could  rule  over  other  ministers on  royal lands  quite  distant  from  each  other.

York Minster  is the chief church  in the Northern Province of the Church of England  and is the seat of the Archbishop of York. The present building is the  largest  medieval Gothic cathedral.

Website: www.yorkminister.org

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Via Ian Thomson ….. Brisbane, Australia

Certainly the “worship” of national Israel was institutionalised, carried on continually by a clergy group (the Levites and priests) dedicated to elaborate cultic services of the tabernacle and later in the temple – the old dispensation. In the New Testament there is no notion of “going to church”. An ekklesia (a Greek word without any religious connotation translated as “church” in our bibles) did not actually exist as an entity unless people actually gathered eg. in Acts 19:32-39, ekklesia is used for a council, a court and an unruly meeting! Before the gathering, ekklesia exists as an idea only. Because the Christians’ gathering was repeated, ekklesia could also be thought of in abstract, a bit like “the awesome foursome” (Four different high adrenalin activities in Australia: helicopter ride, white water rafting, a huge bungy jump and a huge jetski). We always think of them together.

Meetings of the first Christians were like family get-togethers with no commitment to institution but to the Lord and to one another as brothers/sisters. They met in homes with a minimum of formality. They were concerned not about maintaining institutions, but building people in the true vine, in Christ. The first Christians chose the word ekklesia with no religious overtones.

They passed up synagogue (James 2:2 is the Jewish exception). When people today refer to “the Church” they have in mind a kind of coalition of a number of organisations, many of which have aims not envisaged by the apostles. “The Church” is seen to have needs rather than people. But biblical ekklesia facilitates fellowship and encouragement.

Organisation for relationship:

Organisation is always necessary to do many worthwhile things: arranging meetings, facilitating fellowship and growth. But the aim must always be fellowship and all else subservient to that goal. “Leadership” and organisation, must be the means and not the end – these things must serve the aims and not dominate; they must be critically examined regularly to see if they are becoming the goal, to see if hey are dictating and enslaving people and destroying fellowship. If there is no fellowship, no encouragement, there is failure to be Y’Shua’s community.

But you do not have to have “The Organisation” to have organisation. The former is the master of people. The latter, a servant. “Experts” control and organise The Organisation. But anyone can organise. An Organisation tends to take on a life of its own, especially if there is property to be maintained – you have to keep it going, instead of keeping relationships going. The act of organising to facilitate loving and edifying experiences can be carried out by anyone with some knack for it.

You don’t have to wait for someone with the title ‘pastor’ to do it. People of God truly need one another and so must meet together. To love the other there must be a commitment to the meeting of people. We all need people who will love us and upon whom we may lavish his love. We need lovers, friends, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers; not bosses, (dir)rectors, priests and controllers. We are all to be ministers (= servants/slaves) to each other, Gal 5:13, “submitting to one another” Eph 5:21. And we must commit ourselves to this community out of obedience to Y’Shua. If there is no commitment, local communities simply fail.

Church or Christ?

All too often, we blindly and uncritically accept traditional ideas of church as a given. This suits the religious industry, with its bureaucrats, salaried staff, superannuates, and real estate, etc. Institutions foster and even demand loyalty from their constituents – loyalty is not necessarily a good thing: loyalty can stifle questioning, blinding minds and suspending thinking.

Institutions become the focus and much energy is spent in maintaining them and defending them and hiding from view their deficiencies. Many churches are just as obsessed with image as any capitalist corporation. Believers are confronted with a choice between believing in “the church” and believing in the Lord Y’Shua.

For many, church is the focus rather than Christ – dependent on church to know Christ. Thus they never mature.

Church becomes synonymous with being a Christian. Christianity equals “the church” – the channel of grace instead of Christ. People become church junkies unable to live without Church. Others seek the “perfect church” or some elusive New Testament model, ignoring the diversity in the NT. People speak of “the Church” as an entity – a thing. But this is a myth, or an abstraction. There is the biblical idea of Christ’s mystical body, incorrectly conceived by many as the “worldwide church”. Such a concept is impossible, unless by some miracle, all the Christians alive could meet in one place! But the apostles taught all believers are gathered in Christ “above”, enrolled in a heavenly assembly by faith.

People say “institutions enrich people’” But rather, it is those stimulating and passionate people who enrich others. Christ gives “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints” (Eph 4:24), not for “The Church”. People say “institutions preserve the faith” – but again it is the committed visionary, the good steward who preserves the faith. No doubt institutions will remain – it is the significance we attach to them that counts. But institutions tend to get in the way of the prophetic word of God.

It is a family model not an institutional one demonstrated by Y’Shua – community. It is relational. Institutions are often praised and highly valued. But it is men and women moved by the Holy Spirit, who should be held as true examples. People say “institutions provide accountability”. But it’s persons acting in humility and love who provide essential accountability. True accountability – submission to one another and to the Word – is an inward thing, not something in a rule book – a matter of the heart. The lack of accountability of many high profile leaders and institutions is well known.

Unfortunately, the word “church” gives a completely different connotation to the NT word ekklesia which always meant people actually gathered together. Y’Shua referred to His ekklesia only once (Matthew 16:18), using the word as a metaphor for his eschatological community – a new people under his Lordship – a force against which hell would not withstand. Establishment churches tend to submerge people’s doubts instead of allowing them to be worked through to satisfactory conclusion. Chasing their own agendas, they use worldly promotion and fund-raising methods to advance their own programs.

People of this emerging generation can see through all this. They understand what is happening. They see all the hype and promotion and self-aggrandisement and not the gospel. Some religious organisations get people to the front to solve their problems. This washing away of trouble and complexities may actually repress them – a false positivism. Like the Pharisees who could explain everything, they must have answers for every question. They are threatened if they do not have the answer. Some say “we hang in there because of our kids” – but what are they learning? To be little goodies? Not to think? To be religious? Are they not learning the form, the religion, and the pretending? One day we will no longer be able to meet openly, so why perpetuate what is unnecessary? Having 2-bob each way, are we afraid of losing our place? Then your trust is not in Christ. The truth is that his followers will be marginalised, hurt, disempowered, excluded people – just like Y’Shua. There was no place for him in the establishment – to be with him meant to be outside the establishment.

It’s the old “mission compound syndrome”: Indian mission compounds were an extension of Western culture. The real India was outside. In this thinking, if an Indian wanted to become a Christian, he had to become like the missionaries. Similarly, in our culture, many people, especially Gen-Xers, are alienated from the gospel because they think that Christians are like church people and that they must embrace church sub-culture. Horrors.

The one help Christ promised/gave us was the Holy Spirit, is missing. Instead we have clergy, books, bureaucracies, temples, great music, excited worship leaders, harmonious choirs, gorgeous robes, grandeur, entertainment. Peter said to the crippled man “silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give unto you” and then gave him Jesus. What else dare we give?

WHAT IS TRUE WORSHIP? Is true worship singing psalms and spiritual songs? What is the heart of the NT idea of “worship”? Note that “singing psalms and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:18) is “to one another”. People used to sing classic hymns of exhortation and encouragement. This was before the days of “worship songs” and “worship leaders”. Currently, the emphasis seems to be entertainment for Christians, not edification.

In Romans 12:1-10 “worship” is connected with “service” (same Greek word) ie. to render service, to be a servant! Service must be rendered to God, and in His way – in the way that pleases Him, that is “acceptable” to Him – not as we might think appropriate! But when Christians meet, we read that the worship that is acceptable to God is to serve one another: “your spiritual worship”; as sharing gifts and graces with each other (12:8-10). The emphasis in the NT is on “love, love, love’” That means care, forgive, share, encourage, etc. The test whether we have “not forsaken the assembling together” is whether we “encourage one another and stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Does that happen at your gathering?

The issue here is not just a matter of worshiping the way we think is right, or what suits us, or makes us feel spiritual, or is exciting. The spiritual worship that is acceptable to God through Jesus is to care and heal and soothe and comfort and forgive and share and love people. This may not be very stimulating. It might be difficult, lonely, discouraging and get you into heaps of trouble. This kind of worship may be exhausting, seemingly unrewarding and require lots of patience.

When he was asked 3 times by our Lord “do you love me?” Peter 3 times avoided the real issue, but Y’Shua kept saying things like “well, feed my sheep” (John 21:15- 17). The measure of our value (=worship) of Y’shua is the measure of our care and love for others.

So, what is the value of the Son of God in our hearts and minds and wills? It will be seen in our actions. Again, in Matthew 25, the punchline of the sheep/goats story is “in as much as you have done it unto the least of these my brothers (ie ‘my littlest, most needy ones’) you have done it unto me” – a startling saying. So “worship” begins to take on a whole different meaning to what it did under the Mosaic or David systems of Israel’s cultic service.

Are we covering up our disobedience to Christ by doing religious things, having “divine service” and singing “sacred music”. We might be avoiding doing the real willof God, demonstrated and amplified by Christ. Did Y’Shua conduct services? teach his disciples that worship meant liturgy? Did he have in mind wonderful buildings, inflexible institutions? No. He lived with those 12 in simplicity, taught them how to ask God, sent them away on mission: hugging lepers, washing feet, welcoming kids, challenging men, honouring women, keeping doubtful company. At the Jewish synagogues, he witnessed to God’s mercy and his own person – and ended up upsetting everyone! At the temple (the courts – ironically He was not allowed in the sanctuary) He disturbed the peace, asked unnerving questions, foretold the temple destruction. Brought trouble.

Paul gave people principles that allowed each one to exercise their spiritual gift when together. The bottom line was “let everything be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26) “that there may be no discord in the body but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one suffers, all suffer together. If one is honoured, all rejoice” (1 Cor 12:26). Care and encouragement. We can all begin to truly worship (= value) Christ today, by keeping His Word: love one another, care for His little ones, encourage, exhort, bear witness to Him and take up daily His cross.

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