Real Christianity versus Religiosity
What questions do people ask about your church? “How big is your church?” “Where is your church?” “What kind of music do you have?” “What denomination is your church?” These are things about churches. But what is a church?
After trying to plant churches, I asked, “Lord, what is a church?” I had been trying to plant and grow something without knowing what it was. This question led me to some precarious understandings that have questioned almost everything I once accepted as normal in a church.
Our Vision of Church: Limited by Our Experience
I went to my peers and leaders and asked, “What is church?” They realized they might not really know what church is either.
We know what our experience is. We know what our traditions are. We speak as though we know the answer to this question. But in reality we found that many had never asked this question. Rather than starting by asking what church is, we had been asking how we can make churches become bigger or better, or how we can start more of them.
We are tempted to define church according to our experience. We think we know something because of familiarity. By defining church this way, we are assured we are always right. But this solution perpetuates our current problems. It is vital that we look at Scripture with honesty and courage as we try to define church. Once we ask the question, however, we must be ready to expect the unexpected.
When I was a seminary student, teachers gave me a definition of church that was more of a description. They explained church embodied these five characteristics:
- A group of believers gathered together regularly ...
- Who consider themselves a church ...
- That has qualified elders present ...
- That regularly practices the ordinances of water baptism and Communion as well as church discipline ...
- And that has an agreed-on set of doctrinal beliefs and evangelistic purpose.
But my question was still with me, so I asked what is missing from this list. Since that time I have put the same list and question before several groups. What is missing? After a few minutes of responses, I tell them what I think is missing if they have not already found it.