Church. What's the first thing you think of? Boring, old-fashioned, big ugly building, weird Christian people who don't have any fun? Or perhaps you have more optimistic thoughts... Nice. Organic. Friendly. But even with these latter thoughts, where does our idea of church even come from? Why is it that we sit in rows and sing songs and read liturgy and baptise people by 'full-immersion'? Does our current idea of 'church' actually fit in with what the Bible tells us, or have we gone astray?
Perhaps the answer lies in it's meaning. In the original Greek texts of the New Testament, the word 'ekklesia' is what is substituted in English versions of the Bible for 'church'. But in ancient Greek, 'church' was 'kuriakos', meaning, 'of the Lord'. Therefore, when the original translators chose to substitute 'ekklesia' for 'church', there was a shift from the 'called-out ones' of 'ekklesia' to the 'of the Lord' people of 'kuriakos'.
Be that as it may, in name or meaning, what signifies that 21st Century churches deserve the reputation of 'ekklesia' that is used to describe the disciples over 115 times in the NT? Paul and Silas had a reputation. They were 'trouble-makers' all over the known world (Acts 17:6). But what were they doing that had caused such uproar? Perhaps they were telling people to go to church, or to support the local Minister, or to be nice to their neighbours? No.
Paul and Silas were declaring that there was another king: Jesus. A king bigger than Caesar, a King that was building his Kingdom, a king that was at war! Paul and Silas were not advocating for churches, they were building God's Kingdom. And being part of God's kingdom means over-throwing all the other kings in the minds of the people and alienating them from the mental hold of the things that ruled their lives. They were calling people out of their differences to surrender their hearts and lives to the Kingdom where all who heard and believed would join as one community.
So where does this modern idea of 'church' come from? In effect, (without boring you with a very long lecture on church history) it grew, influenced by culture, from the moment Constantine legalised Christian worship in 313AD, until around 1950... (when it just got stuck.) Churches reflected the culture around them, strict, formal, controlled. No longer where Christian's the ones 'called-out' to follow Jesus, they were the ones that 'ventured out' on a Sunday morning. For many, faith bore no resemblance nor significance to everyday life.
Fortunately though, this was not true for everyone. There are many amazing men and women of God in British history that lived the message they heard and believed. At one time - the church was at the forefront in societal change - providing hospitals, schools, food, shelter, clothing, care and love. It took the governmental institutions decades to catch up with what our forefather's were doing. But now? Many churches reject homosexuals whereas society has been accepting for years. Many churches reject divorcees though society has deemed it acceptable. Many churches demoralise women though they won 'equality' in society nearly 100 years ago. When did the Church stop leading the way in love, acceptance, grace and humility?
Have we become so scared that our values will be undermined by society that we have locked ourselves away in our brick buildings to sing our songs and say our prayers before creeping back into the world to join the crowd? Why are we afraid to stand for what we say we believe? Is God not big enough? Is Jesus' message not radical enough? Church should be about more than going out on a Sunday morning to sit in an uncomfortable pew in a building that is normally too cold or too hot, standing occasionally to sing a few songs half-heartedly, and listen to someone talk for half an hour before saying a few heartless prayers, stand around drinking average coffee and making awkward conversation and then go home, unchanged.
Even if the preacher is particularly good, or the worship particularly pleasing, how long before you're back to your life, living the same way as always, buying non-fairtrade foods, unethical clothing, moaning about the bills and how expensive holidays are, fobbing off charity workers in the high street because you 'can't afford' to give, and yet had pre-ordered the latest child-laboured Apple product and enjoy the luxury of hot meals, new clothes, couple of holidays a year and Sky TV. Isn't anyone else fed up of the hypocrisy? We watch Man VS Food and we laugh, because it's funny to watch a man trying to eat ridiculous sized portions of food in an hour. But the deep sadness is that 21, 000 children died today because of starvation, unclean water and easily preventable diseases.
So I ask you this: If the 'ekklesia' of the 21st century are satisfied with being 'church', then what is the point?