Like the child who delights in unconsciously, naturally, expressing who he is. Church should be the same ... the unconscious, natural *expression* of living with God. I don't need a organization or a building to express my relationship with my family ... a home helps, but I don't need it ... I express my relationship because it's part of who I am. That's church!
Unfortunately, other people are more cynical:
- A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there. (H.L Mencken)
- Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God. (Lenny Bruce)
- People don't come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God. (Kurt Vonnegut)
- Most of us spend the first six days of each week sowing wild oats; then we go to church on Sunday and pray for a crop failure. (Fred Allen)
- One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always. (A. W. Tozer)
- The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God. (C.S. Lewis)
But really, that still doesn't really answer the question: what is church? What defines the church? How do I know what is church and what is not?
Well, the way you know anything exists is because of what your senses tell you. Rocks express rock nature. Slugs express a slug nature. And you and I express our nature. What we sense frames our understanding of what something is. So church is known by its expression. Sadly, the expression of church makes for rather a dull and dirty picture.
But what really defines something is what is at its heart and gives rise to its expression.
So if we want to define church ... not the institution or the flawed human organization or the physical buildings ... but if we want God's definition of church, then we have to look at what the gives the expression that God desires. This changes the question from "What is the Church" to one of "What is the heart of the church's expression?"
If it's expression we're after, then expression is active, not passive. Expression is comes from life, is active, has cause and consequence. That should clue you in to what God's church is; it's the gathering of His people doing His will.
"Ok," you might say. "Easy enough in principle, but I don't know His specific will all the time, and I'm sure most other people don't either, so I don't know what the expression of His church should be, and so I still can't define church. How do I assess what should be church, and what shouldn't?"
Not a problem. If church is the expression of His people doing His will, then it's easy to say what church is: Church is the gathering of God people to "... love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus himself says "There is no other commandment greater than these."
This is the ultimate form of expression in His will. There is nothing purer. Now I have a measure of what is Church. Church is all that a gathering of people does which moves us closer to this deepest of desires that Jesus has for us.
So let me ask: does what we do together express love for God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind? Is there anything we do that is shielding, numbing, or blinding our expression? Do we chose what we do merely because thats what we've always done? Are we cloaking things in layers of trappings so that the unbeliever struggles to see the inner expression? Are we characterized by repetitiveness because it is easier than expending mind and strength to metaphorically "sing a new song"? Do our emotions get excluded because we are not choosing to love with all our heart and soul?
And all those questions are just for when we gather together. What about the church expression to the community outside? Do we welcome, do we befriend? Do we lower barriers or raise barriers? Do we withhold our resources, or do we give of our resources? Are we silent, or do we speak on the issues of the land? Do we stand with the suffering, do we stand against injustice? Will we speak of the wonderful treasure of Jesus, or do we cloth Him in mysticism? Do we placate people in their comfort zone, or do we drop the mask and be honest?
Church is simple. Its never the same, it is not stale, its the living body of Christ loving the Father and being Jesus. Jesus modeled this for us by being the church ... he stripped away hypocrisy, he pulled aside the curtain of ritual that hides him from people, he brought joy within the absolute hardness of truth, and he destroyed the comforts of fake pretense.
How can my church be Church?