What is a Church?

On Sunday, June 20, I will welcome my third class of new members who have joined our congregation since the pandemic began. To be honest, I don't blame folks who prefer not to join in the middle of a global health crisis. Too many of us were worried about finding toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and antacids to have found much time for joining another organization.

Of course, we know that the church isn't just another organization. Yet what is it, exactly? Depending on where you are in the New Testament, the answer varies. In some places, we are called the body of Christ; in other areas, we are referred to as the communion of saints and the people of God. Specific texts name us as branches of the vine, or salt of the earth, even fishers for people. Most of the time, the Greek word used for church is ekklesia, which we can translate as congregation or assembly, signifying a physical space set apart for particular purposes. But even that is a somewhat misleading translation. Ekklesia is actually a compound word meaning to call and out. Which means we are technically the called out ones.

But called out for what? According to the scriptures, we are called out to bear witness to a new reality. Theologian Dan Migliore writes that to live in this reality "is a distinctive form of human life in relationship with God and others. Centered on the reconciling love of God in Christ and empowered by the spirit for service, [the church] is human life in process of reformation and renewal." The church is where we are invited to see the world and God's love for it with new eyes, hear it with fresh ears, and engage it with open hearts and working hands. Unlike other Christian traditions, we in the Reformed tradition do not see the church as synonymous with God's reign; we see it coming, of course, but it's never fully realized. The church is a collection of folks who know we are loved by God in Jesus Christ and want to share that love with the world by caring about the things God cares about.

In these last fourteen months, where we have had to shelter in place, we never stopped being the called out ones. While I'm deeply grateful that toilet paper has been restocked on store shelves, I give thanks that Jesus continues to call others out, to come to join us as we watch, work, and pray for God's new day.