Untangling the Gospel 10: Reimagining Church

The cultural revolution that we are experiencing has also exposed some glaring misconceptions in my ideas about “church.”

Earlier this year, I wrote about my frustrations with “church chat” – a way of talking about faith that strips the gospel of its power. In short, there is a way of talking about faith that actually avoids the concerns that were at the heart of Jesus’ teachings. Its “churchy” talk that focuses on denominations and preaching and worship and bible classes, rather than things like discipleship and service and redemption.

As I have reflected on that post during the last few days, I have started to see that my problem isn’t an over-emphasis on the idea of “church” (as that post suggested), so much as it is a problem with misconceptions of what “church” means. And I mean multiple misconceptions.

Here are three of the misconceptions I am trying to overcome:

1. Church as a Building. “Thats a beautiful church” “He’s over at the church” “We’re adding on to our church.”
2. Church as an Institution. “First Baptist Church” “Church committee” “Church budget” “My church.”
3. Church as an Event. “We had church this morning” “Church was great today” “I really enjoyed church” “We’re late for church again.”

None of these accurately reflect the idea of “church” as it is presented in the New Testament.

Andrew Jones, one of my favorite bloggers, often uses the term deep ecclesiology. I like this phrase. To me, it means that church isn’t something you see on the surface. It is neither building, nor legal institution, nor event. It is a synergy that happens when believers come together and God begins to act.

The believers can be anyone. Baptist. Anglican. Catholic. American. Chinese. White. Hispanic. Male. Female. You name it.

They can come together anywhere. In homes. On street corners. In FEMA shelters filled with hurricane evacuees.

Wherever there are believers. However they are together – whether by purpose or not. Whenever God begins to move among them. There is the church.

I want “church” to become a holy term in my vocabulary. When people hear me use it, I want to them to know that I am speaking of something important, large, and mysterious. It is a word that has become too trivialized and cheap. As such, I try to be disciplined – with varying degrees of success – about saying “church” only when its use reflects the deep ecclesiology that is reflected in scripture. In its place, I often use terms like faith community, faith tradition, and church building to communicate the ideas that used to mean “church.”

How about you? How do you use the word church? Does anyone else share my frustration with the way this word is misused?

Tags: Church Chat


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