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Re-Imagining Church

Join us as we deconstruct some modern constructs so that we can reconstruct them Biblically. This week's topic is "church".

Written by Mike Biolsi on .


I want us to deconstruct some modern constructs so that we can reconstruct them Biblically.

I think it providential that we are covering this section as our state continues to feel the restrictions and challenges of shutting down for a pandemic. I think it gives us a better insight into the exile, if even just briefly.

The book of 1 Peter is a great book that connects the church to the exile. While we are not going to study that book just yet, I think we should take time to examine some concepts of the church before we study the exile so we can better understand what it means to be the church today.

For me, the study of the exile, as well as our own short exile from normal church life, has widened my lens regarding church.

As I struggled with my frustration that we could not connect and see each other, I was reminded that much of Israel went over 70 years without being able to meet at the temple. As a matter of fact, their temple was destroyed and then burned and then rebuilt during that time.

Their worship routines were cut off completely and they could not even Zoom!

They did not have regular meetings. They could not offer their sacrifices. They had no way to give their tithes to God. The Levites were out of jobs.

It reminded me that God inhabits his people not buildings. They never ceased to be the people of God even in exile.

·        We miss our music, but we can still meet.

·        We miss our fellowship, but we can still connect.

But aside from what we miss, it has helped me to rethink what the church really is supposed to be like. Was church supposed to be a weekly meeting with a specific liturgy, music, preaching and announcements?

What about the NT church that was persecuted and scattered?

I think it is a good time for us to challenge our modern, North American mindset of church and re-imagine some things.

Re-imagining Church

The word “church” in our New Testament is a translation of the word “ekklesia” which we transliterate into English as the word “ecclesiastical” which means, “relating to the Christian Church or its clergy”.

With a term like this it is easy to conjure up images of grand church kingdoms.  But the original word actually means and assembly or gathering.

Certain terms come into our language and they take on a new meaning when we transliterate them verses translating them. Church is one of those words for sure!

Have you ever read the introduction to the original 1611 King James version of the Bible? There is a section titled, “The Translators to the Readers” which explains how the translation was compiled and its original intent.

Here is one excerpt that is fascinating to me:

“Lastly, wee have on the one side avoided the scrupulositie of the Puritanes, who leave the olde Ecclesticall words, and betake them to other, as when they put washing for Baptisme, and Congregation in stead of Church”

In many ways I wish we had simply translated those words!

A church is a gathering of Jesus followers. It is that simple and that powerful.

Is it possible that we have defined church in such a way that we have removed the beauty and the power of it? That is a question I want us to delve into today though I am sure I will be wrestling with this for years to come.

I think the best place to start would be the book of Acts.

This is where we see the formation of the early church. From Pentecost to the last chapter, the church was being formed and re-formed. God was changing what it looked like to live out faith in exile.

Mega Church

In Acts 2, the disciples are all waiting for God to send the Spirit, and the spirit shows up big time! They all start speaking in different languages – proclaiming the gospel to people from all over the world who were gathered IN Jerusalem for Pentecost.

Acts 2:38–42 (CSB) — 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” 41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

God added 3,000 people to the church! The first ever mega-church was born in Jerusalem!

In Acts 8, Saul (later called Paul) ravaged the church and because of that persecution they were scattered – away from Jerusalem where their “church” was.

Acts 8:1 (CSB) — 1 Saul agreed with putting him [Stephen] to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria.

And it kept spreading….

Acts 11:19–20 (CSB) — 19 Now those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus.

The church continued to grow as the gospel was spread and Paul and Barnabas took on missionary journeys. Both Jewish and Gentile churches formed as people accepted Jesus.

House Church

Eventually, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome – a place he had not been to yet! Most believe this to be a house church. He then refers to a church that meets in a house:

Romans 16:3–5 (CSB) — 3 Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life. Not only do I thank them, but so do all the Gentile churches. 5 Greet also the church that meets in their home. Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.

In many parts of the present-day world there is a movement called the “house church” movement. It is hitting the US today. While some may call this a modern fad, I see it as a reclaiming of the church’s heritage!

1 Corinthians 16:19 (CSB) — 19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla send you greetings warmly in the Lord, along with the church that meets in their home.

Colossians 4:15 (CSB) — 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her home.

Philemon 2 (CSB) — 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home.

While many Jews followed Jesus and still attended the Synagogue, the Gentile churches did not have synagogues, nor would that have been appropriate. Instead they met in homes and it also mentioned they had some public teaching times.

I am NOT saying that one is better than the other. I am pointing out that God used the mega-church in Jerusalem as well as the house church in Asia, and all those in between. Small churches should not be embarrassed and large churches should not boast. It is God’s church.

So, whether we meet in a specific building, or meet in a home, as long as we meet we still are the church and no matter what, we remain the people of God.

Saturation Church

After his resurrection, Jesus commanded the disciples to GO and make disciples of ALL nations:

Matthew 28:19–20 (CSB) — 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

They did not go until they were persecuted.

I think our tendency is to congregate and not dissipate. Perhaps that is why we call our church bodies “congregations”? lol

WHAT IF – we intentionally went out? What if we, as a church, were intentional about spreading out of our communities and not focusing primarily on our gathering?

I think we will see, as we study the exile, that the people of God were meant to be dispersed among their communities to share God with their neighbors through what they say and do.

What David and I have been studying, praying about and working towards is an intentionally scattered church.

You cannot build enough mega-churches to hold all the people that need Jesus. It is not an economic reality. It is an evangelism strategy that would only allow us to reach a very small percent of those that do not know Jesus as their Savior.

The home church also has its challenges with being small and often isolated. They rarely have the resources they need for their ministry, leadership and outreach.

What if the church was positioned to spread out (like the persecuted church) while still being connected to a larger church family? Not only could it better weather possible future government persecution, it would be able to reach more people with the gospel as small clusters of believers meet in each of our neighborhoods. It would mean that the church would exist without borders, buildings or perhaps even budgets.

REMEMBER: God inhabits his people, not buildings.

We refer to this as “saturation” church, where the entire church is on mission to reach out to their communities by having smaller gatherings of God’s people, micro-churches if you will, that are being the church to each other and their community. If you have heard of us talking about missional families over the past few years, that is the concept.

However, to have a structure like that would mean a drastic shift in what a church does on a daily and weekly basis, wouldn’t it?

Rethinking Church Activity

I think, that if We think, about the different churches mentioned in the book of Acts, it might actually change some expectations that we have regarding what a church does when it meets together.

I would imagine that a Jewish congregation meeting in Jerusalem in a synagogue would have a much different meeting than a house church full of Romans!

What did the church DO when they met?

Immediately after Pentecost we see the first mention of corporate church activity – the things they did when they got together. This would be speaking of the Jewish church in Jerusalem:

Acts 2:42 (CSB) — 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

Teaching, fellowship, meals, prayer. It also says that they sold their possessions and gave to meet each other’s needs.

Acts 20:7 (CSB) — 7 On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he kept on talking until midnight.

And then Paul spoke to them and taught them. In this passage, he did so until a man fell out of the window and died! (they did bring him back to life again)

They broke bread – they had a meal! This was not just juice and a small cup like we have. They had a meal together.

There is a lot that the church did! In Acts 6 it took care of feeding widows. it met physical needs of others. It fought for the rights of the oppressed and elevated the position of slaves and women.

WHOAH – just change and few words, like the pronoun from “it” to “they”, or “gathering” and “church” and you get a whole different perspective! WOW.

There is a lot that the gathering of Jesus-followers did! In Acts 6 THEY took care of feeding widows. THEY met physical needs of others. THEY fought for the rights of the oppressed and elevated the position of slaves and women.

They also fasted:

Acts 14:23 (CSB) — 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Later, Paul instructs young Timothy about his duties as an elder of the church. Timothy is serving in Ephesus, which is in Asia minor:

1 Timothy 4:13 (CSB) — 13 Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.

Public readings, encouraging/correcting each other and teaching. The local churches also sang:

Colossians 3:16 (CSB) — 16 Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

While we do offer public meetings, music, prayer, teaching and preaching, what they have come to mean has morphed over the years.

As you read the New Testament you will find letters to churches telling people how to get along and how to stay on mission. You will find confrontation of sin and encouragement to continue loving one another. Just study that phrase, “one another” and I promise it will deepen your understanding of what it means to be the church.

The church is a gathering of Jesus followers. However, it is even more than that to Jesus.

Ephesians 5:25–32 (CSB) — 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of his body. 31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Jesus left his father and was joined to his bride, the church. Can you imagine our modern-day construct of the church as a bride? I cannot. I believe the church has exchanged relationship for industry. We view the church as a business that exists to serve the needs of the membership and efficiently grow the organization, rather than the bride of Christ – the people he loves and cherishes.

The church is called to relationship and representation.

So, a healthy theology of church has nothing to do with buildings, programs, versions of the Bible, music styles, time of service, etc.

A healthy theology of church is one that understands our individual calling to live with and for God and others in this world we are exiles in.

As we wrap up our time together this morning, I want to challenge you with some questions to help you think about expectations you may have about church:

FIRST – if you stop attending meetings and just stay at home, are you still a part of the church?

I guess if we want to go back to the original definition the answer has to be “NO”. We cannot be an assembly or gathering while in isolation. So, in that sense the church would cease, just as public worship ceased for the Jews in Exile.

Perhaps you have felt the isolation and emptiness of not being able to be together over the past few months? I know I have. We were meant to be a family, to have all things in common, share meals and live life together. Anything less is less than the ideal God has for his church.

SECOND – If we were not allowed to meet, like the Jews in exile, would your faith grow? Would your children grow in their faith and understanding of God? As you wrestle with this, perhaps you can ask what your expectation of the “church” is, and does it line up with what the church in Acts is called to do.

THIRD – If the church truly is people (and it is) and those people are called to sing, pray, read God’s word, have meals and share the gospel together, are you being the church?

This is not a simple yes/no question, though I posed it that way.

If all of the Bible is summed up in two commands -Love God with everything and love your neighbor – perhaps we should approach church from the lens of, “How can I partner with these people to grow in my love for God and others?”.

Brothers and sisters, God did not call us to liturgy and programming. He did not call us to buildings and budgets.

God has called the church to relationship and mission.

WHAT IF the real concept of the church is much simpler than we have morphed it into and much more effective and powerful than we have experienced?

If our expectations of church have hindered our ability to be the people of God and take the good news of Jesus to the world around us, then we must be careful, as John instructed his followers:

1 John 5:21 (CSB) — 21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Re-Imagining Church