What is church? How would you define it? I have defined it this way – I attend Cornerstone Church in Saskatoon. It is located at 315 Lenore Drive. But is that a good way to identify and define the word church? No. That building is merely where the church meets. So, exactly what is church. I checked with Google, and Google knows everything and found this definition – Ekklesia (or ecclesia) is the Greek word translated in the New Testament as “church.” It comes from ek, meaning “out from and to” and kaleo, meaning “to call,” and has to do with a group of people called out from one place and to another. It is an assembly or a congregation. The people that meet and worship at 315 Lenore Drive are the church and not the building.
When I served a church in Rimbey, Alberta a fellow pastor once said, “There is only one church in Rimbey, but it meets in different sheep sheds.” I’ve always liked that comment because it shows the two different dimensions of what the word means – it is the worldwide church as well as the local congregation. When we received Jesus Christ as our personal saviour, we automatically became part of the universal church that spans the ages. I am part of that same church that Peter and Paul were members of. The same church that Martin Luther, Menno Simon, John Wesley, and Billy Graham were proud to be members of. I am one with all the Christ-followers in the world today whether they are Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Mennonite, or Nazarene. I have brothers and sisters that I have never met, nor probably ever will meet, yet we are all still part of one and the same church.
Twice I have traveled to the African country of Rwanda and both times I worshiped at churches there. The first time was during Holy Week, and I attended an Anglican church that was unlike any Anglican congregation I had ever experienced in Canada. The second time I was with a Baptist congregation that was also unlike any Baptist church I had ever visited in Canada. Their dress was different, the songs they sang were different. On my first trip to Rwanda, I spent a weekend in Amsterdam and attended a Dutch church. The men wore suits and ties, and the women were equally formally dressed in western style clothing. I recognized the melodies of the songs we sang but not the words. As apparently different as these congregations were, I was one with each of them. We were all still part of this universal ekklesia. That’s the “one church” my friend in Rimbey was talking about, but there is another way to understand this word – a local congregation.
There are somewhere in the neighbourhood of thirty-seven million congregations that are home to over two billion Christians in the world today. They are divided into thousands of denominations and countless non-denominational and independent congregations. Each of these thirty-seven million congregations has its own flavour, its own way of worshiping and its own way of practising the Christian faith. Too often we want to look at how other congregations interpret the faith and want to point out what we see as their faults and errors.
I took a class one time in which the professor said that everyone in heaven would be a heretic. What he was wanting to point out was that though the Bible was absolutely true, our interpretations of it were not. That means that some of the doctrines we hold as dear, might just not be right. Our job is not to serve as God’s red marking pencil, going around correcting what we see as errors in the theology of others, rather it is to study the scripture to make sure that we eliminate the errors in our own theology. Where there are errors, in my theology and in the theology of others, God will point them out and provide the resources to correct them.
The church is the bride of Christ. I love these words from Ephesians 5:25-27 (NLT) “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” We are the church that God is in the process of cleansing and refining. A friend once said to me that the church is in God’s washing machine, in the agitate cycle. The church is God’s creation. He will defend it so that it will finally be all that He dreamed it could be.
In the meantime, remember to love Christ’s church, both in its universal and local congregational forms and until He returns, Keep the Son in Your Eyes.