I grew up in a small English village where an Anglican Church, which purported to be more than 900 years old, dominated our skyline. It was, and still is, a gracious sight set in a pastoral area surrounded by green fields and grazing cattle.
My mother by upbringing, was an Anglican, but had made no profession of faith till after my own Christian commitment in Billy Graham’s first English crusade. We were not a churchgoing family since my Dad had been raised in a strict fundamentalist home and my parents found no area of agreement about religion.
and then, we came to the door!
Immediately we entered the building, I would be told, “shhhh!! God lives here!!. I would immediately be struck by the thought “Doesn’t He live everywhere?” and would look furtively around to see if I could see Him somewhere hidden in the building. So I learned what it meant to “go to church”, We also had a Nonconformist chapel in our village, where we went once a year to sing songs at the Harvest Festival and to enjoy the smell of fruit and kerosene all mixed up together. “Going to Chapel “ was not so bad since apparently God didn’t live there because we could talk in an audible voice inside the building without being afraid of disturbing Him.
The Bible is more concerned with us being the church, than simply going to a building called Church.
Somehow we have lost sight of our purposes in gathering and what we are actually gathering to. Of course, Christians should gather together regularly. The Apostle Paul tells us “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together in the way that some choose to do”.
You could say that this is semantics, but in fact it is actually very true and we try to simply ignore it as a “technicality”, in order to avoid things that might have to change. In God’s view the Church is people who have entered into a saving relationship with Him, and committed themselves to walk and live with those of like faith. Paul again sums this up by saying “You are the Body of Christ and members in particular”
When we study the book of Acts we find those earlier followers of Christ, met together frequently to seek Him and to interact with one another. They were not going to church, but rather going to be the church together. When we hold a regular meeting with other believers we are “assembling together” or putting together the pieces that make up an expression of the Body of Christ…the Church. We do not go to receive something but to be something!
Interestingly, Paul again tells us “When you come together everyone comes with …….. “ and then he lists gifts and insights and revelations that should be the normal part of believers meeting together to be the Church. Prayer, healing, and opportunities for people to encounter Christ for themselves, should be real parts of the gathering or assembling of the Church.
Mostly, in our Western Society, we “go to church” to be piloted through a series of presentations in which we have little or no part at all. This will of course, include singing and prayer, which we may participate in, but often these are limited to a small group of experts whilst the rest join in the “congregational bit”.
Essentially assembling together as congregation in the Book of Acts was an experience which meant interaction between believers and sharing their worship and experience of God together, rather than being led through liturgy no matter how “Charismatic” it may be. Every day wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we are the Church, if we are indeed committed to Him.
This means that the world does not need to “come to church” to “come to this special meeting” to encounter Christ. His church was active in the book of Acts outside its meetings held in homes, halls and adjuncts to the Temple.
Mostly, miraculous healing, confrontations with demonic forces, and soul winning conversations did not happen in a “Church” context but on the street in the daily rhythm of life. Jesus called the disciples from their fishing boats, Zaccheus the tax collector from a tree, and held a soul-winning conversation with Nicodemus in his own lodging after dark!
Yet there were surely gatherings of the Church where people encountered Christ as they saw him reflected in the lives of those who had gathered. Reading most of the “sermons” in Acts we become aware that they were not very inspiring and frequently used scripture out of context. This must account for Paul talking about “the foolishness of preaching” which nevertheless did achieve growth and understanding in the lives of believers.
These times of gathering were not high-powered presentations, given by polished public preachers, but rather times of enjoying and sharing in the life of God in each individual and the corporate group. Someone recently wrote to me “I wish we could simply get back to the Holy Spirit interrupting our meetings with His agenda and not ours”
Getting people to “Come to church” will not be of value unless the church has first come to them in the form of believers who express His love and care and compassion for people, regardless of whether they immediately ”get saved”.
I have a notion that if we can start to be the church, this will actually attract people who will see Christ at work in us and through us. In the church at Antioch it was said that they took note of them that they had been with Jesus”. Don’t lets become “spiritually correct” and fuss about “Going to Church” or “being the Church” but lets realize that there is a real difference in the concept and we need to get back to being and not just going.