What do you think of when you hear the word, “Church”? Chances are you think of a buildings with steeples, organs, praise bands, hymns, liturgy, sacraments and sermons. When we think of the word, Church, our minds usually jump to an activity that happens during an hour on Sunday morning. So what is the Church, and what are we called to do?
Gathering around Word and Sacrament – According to the Augsburg Confession, The Christian church is “the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to God’s word” (Kolb, Ac VII, 1). These are the “Marks of the Church”. When we gather publicly, we gather around God’s preached word and the sacraments.
- Holy community – The greek word we translate as church means, “Assembly”. Some claim the work of the church only happens then when we assembly around the Word and Sacraments. However, In the Large Catechism, Luther calls the church a “Holy Community” “Holy Christian People” (Kolb, LC II, 48,49). He says this is the correct translation of what the creed means by, “Communion of saints.” The church is more than an assembly, we’re a people, and as a people we gather to receive God’s gifts and to praise him. Yet we also are a community that has a mission to be a priesthood, to proclaim God’s praises, to call others to God’s light (1 Peter 2:2-10)
- A Body, a family, – Scripture describes the Church as a body and family and as gathering something more regular than a weekly thing (1 Cor 12:12ff, Ro 12:4-7, Eph 2:19, Acts 2:42-47). The purpose of the church service and church workers is, in part, to equip us for living the Christian life (Eph 4: 11 ff). It is to help us in our love for God, Love for neighbor, and witness to the world.
While what we do on Sunday morning is part of being the church, we often focus on the corporate worship as being the only thing of importance at the cost of the rest of the Christian life.
Why We Won’t Be Launching A Service Any Time Soon
- We want to spend our time and energy on reaching the Lost. The goal of this new church is to reach people for Christ and to disciple them in the faith so that they reach and disciple others. If we launch too soon, the church service is going to become central. Everyone, even non-christians recognize that a weekly gathering is an activity of the Christian. For most, it’s the only activity and mark of a Christian’s life. We want our energy and passion to focus on reaching the lost. If we launch too soon, the majority of our energy will have to go into a service rather than the mission.
- We need discipleship structures in place so we have enough leaders to disciple a large influx of attenders that is typical of a launching a service. We have been working hard to create a new kind of church. If we don’t have the disciples/leaders in place to help disciple new members, our identity will soon become watered down and new Christians will fall into a passive understanding of the Christian life (i.e. “Jesus/the church is here to serve me and I’m here to serve me too” or “Being Christian just means I sit here an hour on Sunday morning”)
- We Don’t want our DNA watered down. As i mentioned above, there is usually a large influx of attenders when a new church launches a public worship service, many of these people are disgruntled church hopping Christians. You need a DNA strong enough that it remains primary and doesn’t get replaced by what your visitors expect to receive from church. It would be a great shame if after all this work, we launch a church that ends up being filled with people of the same mentality where only 20% want to help in any way and 80% are largely passive. It would be even a greater shame if these people we all just transferred from another congregation.
- We want to see people coming to Christ before we start a service. In the New Testament, churches are started as a result of people responding to the Gospel. If we start a service before we start seeing conversions, the service again will become about us and our wants and desires rather than about reaching the lost. Unchurched people have more relationships with unchurched people than those who are faithful church goers. The more people we can win for Christ before the launch, the more unchurched people we can invite through them.
The purpose of this is not to give an exhaustible definition of the church. Rather it is simply to describe a couple of the dimensions of church that are pertinent to why we would put off holding a weekly service. If you have any thoughts on what could be included in what the church is or in the reasons why we should or shouldn’t put off having a service, feel free to leave a comment.