What do you think about when you hear the word “church” (or “ekklesia” if you prefer the Greek term, or “iglesia” if you prefer Spanish, or “eglise” if yo prefer French, etc.)? What picture comes to mind? What fills your imagination?
Many, many Christians – probably most – would immediately respond that the church is the people. Of course, when we talk about “church,” we not just talking about any people; we’re talking about God’s people. And, again, most would agree.
But, many would also put limitations, boundaries, or conditions on which “people of God” they can refer to as “church.” And, that’s a problem.
Because, you see, even if we SAY that we believe that the church is the people of God, in practice we actually live as if other things (besides the people) work to define who constitutes church.
What kinds of things do people allow to define who among God’s people actually constitutes “church” for them? Well, for some, it’s location. For others, it’s time. For others, it’s event or activities. For some, it’s organization or leadership or hierarchy. For still other, it’s certain particular doctrines.
If these things are allowed to define church, then what happens when the people are in a different location? They’re not the church. What if they get together at different times? Then it’s not the church. What if they gather for different activities? They’re not the church. What if the organization or leadership is not present or disappears? Then the church is gone too.
Then, for others, it’s only “church” when a certain group of the people of God get together. If it’s others among God’s people who get together, then they don’t consider that church. (It’s a slightly different take on the organization aspect mentioned above.)
We must be honest with ourselves. If things like location, place, activities, or organization modify our understand of who is or who is not “church,” then we are not truly identifying the church with the people of God.
The problem is, the church really is the people of God. It’s that simple. When we are with our brothers and sisters in Christ (in any place, at any time, for any activity, with any or no organization), we are the church.
When we don’t recognize ourselves as the church, we’re likely to miss what God is intending to do through us to build up others or through others to build us up. When we don’t recognize ourselves as the church, we will also miss the fact that we are family and should treat each other as family.
So, the church really is the people of God. We must not allow anything else to qualify (or “disqualify”) that definition.