The word “Church” is derived from “ecclesia”, the Greek word meaning “those called out”.
It was used to refer to an assembly of people called out from everyday life for a particular purpose. The early followers of Christ chose this word to describe themselves and their gatherings, as they understood:
“The Holy Spirit had called them out of one kind of life and into another. They were different people with a new purpose.”
The “called-out ones”, the people of God were thus expected to behave distinctively.
“Church” then always refers to people, their behaviour and their activities. But note that when they took this description for themselves, they were really “support groups for the new believers”, who were attempting to work out what it meant to follow the way, the story of Jesus, in the Jewish context, often from a gentile background. In that sense a very different reality to what we face today, where the Church has shaped history and culture and where to follow the way of Jesus has a different and safer context.
Church is because we need to work together, where no one is greater than any other – but may have a different purpose, or responsibility to perform. The Church is to promote Christ in this world. It is meant to help restore (heal) creation, through working with God to achieve the 'New Creation' where everything is restored to its original purpose and relationship
When we become followers of Christ, we are part of the “ecclesia” – the universal church. In 1 Peter 2:1-12 we are given a picture of what the early gatherings would do:
- Worship: our response to God (and our care for ourselves), which includes coming under God’s authority and direction – or we could put it as letting God’s story change our stories
- Fellowship: our response to one another – the forming of real community, under God’s guidance
- Witness and Service: our response to the rest of Creation – “Mission”.
So all of the “ecclesia” were expected to be active as:
- Disciples of Christ
- Servants of one another and of those around them whether they believed or not
- Ambassadors, the representatives of Christ.
Now the institution we call the Church is the response of people to being Ecclesia and trying to bring order to themselves. However, there were many types of Institutions created, not surprisingly as people express themselves differently.
The various versions of institutions became the denominations. Problems arose when the different groups started to say “We are better than you. We are more right than you.” This swiftly became “We are right and you are wrong” and instead of a “family agreeing to disagree” sadly we become “a split and divided family”.
But Jesus and his Father accept everyone equally! There are no favourites, and no rejects!
So how are we to view Church?
Truthfully gatherings of Christians will be both formal and informal. It can be as simple as two or more Christians gathering to share their lives: just as two or more members of a family join and share family time.
The more formal meetings will cover two aspects; Internal Restoration and Outward Mission.
- Internal restoration is when the gathering acts like a spiritual hospital, or a pit stop.
- Outward Mission is when the gathering acts as a command centre, or a team coaching session to go out and change society and the world.
However, if we are honest, the Church of today doesn’t always behave like this. Yet this is not surprising, for the Church community is made up of real people, not completely restored by God, still capable of making mistakes and messes.
We only need to acknowledge the history of the Church which is full of the impact of human frailty, combined with human ego. So it is full of mistakes, some horrendous and would make any sane person question whether God’s story makes any difference. Yet it also contains moments when God’s story breaks through and the world is changed.
So much of today’s world (its values and the celebration of good and charitable actions) has been shaped by God’s story, despite protestations otherwise.
Joining a Church
Try several. Find one that really helps you follow the way of Jesus. Don’t worry if it is not the same one as others have found. We each respond differently. The important measure is whether you are becoming a better follower of Jesus, in thought, word and action!
And when it comes to Church, don’t just consider the traditional Sunday service, there are other versions (which may come under a “Fresh Expression” banner) open to all such as:
- Messy Church
- Café Church
- Pub Church