What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “church”? I bet you think of a building or an event. We typically refer to the church as an address where it meets or a time that it happens. Unfortunately, what comes to mind for most people when they think of church is such a far cry from the reality of what took place in the era when the church was born.
Jesus was actually the first one to use the term church…kind of. In Matthew 16:13-18, at Peter’s declaration of who Jesus is, He says of Peter, “and on this rock I will build my church.” Jesus called it – the church that is! The Greek word used there is ecclesia. Jesus borrowed that word from the world He lived in. It wasn’t a religious term and the disciples were more than likely very familiar with the word. It simply meant “a gathering of people called for a specific purpose.” The church is simply that. Over time, as buildings were built for the gathering, the German word kirche took the place for church and it referred to the building they met in.
But if we are going to be true to Jesus’ prophecy of the church, we must ask ourselves what the purpose of our gathering together is. Looking at Acts and the entirety of the New Testament (which was the early church), here is what I believe the purpose of the church is:
The early church gathered together regularly to hear teaching, sing songs, pray with one another, and share meals and Holy Communion. Yes, all of these things can be done in isolation, but the essence of the ecclesia is a gathering. We are called to come together regularly to celebrate Christ in our lives with these practices.
The word we see in the New Testament is koinonia which means sharing life together. Jesus intends for us to be in relationships with others - to literally do life together. They say there are 59 “one another” statements in the New Testament. We are called to be about the “one another’s!”
Jesus never preached a message of “wait for them to come.” His message was always one of “go to them.” We are called out beyond the walls of any building or event to our “…Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Yes, it’s true that the “church” today is taking a backseat in our culture. Our lives are busy and it’s tempting to see church as just one more thing in our already overcrowded schedules. It’s no secret, regular weekly attendance in a church building is in a downward spiral. But perhaps that’s because we are looking at “church” as a building or an event? Is that what Jesus called?