What Are We? (What is Church? Part 3)
Updated: May 15, 2021
In examining the scriptures and the history of both the “early church” and the word church these last two weeks, we’ve discovered a lot, haven’t we? We’ve learned that “church” is actually the English form of the Greek word Circe, who was, in Ancient Greek mythology, the goddess of pharmekia, sorcery with drugs. We’ve learned that every time our Bibles say “church,” it really means “congregation.” We’ve learned that, due to the people Paul was writing to and the atmosphere they lived in, Hebrews 10:25 does not in any way mean that we should go to church.
So where does that leave us? I know my family has had some mental warring in light of my recent research. If the church building and all its practices was abolished with Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, then should we still go? If we’re not “the church,” then what are we? What’s our calling and our purpose, if Sunday services and listening to/preaching sermons isn’t part of it?
What are we?
We have been calling ourselves “The Church” for so long, grasping tightly to this ideal, trying to reconcile being with attending, and failing miserably. We have been consumed with church membership and sermon critique and music choice and “Billy-Bob said this” and “Mary Sue did that” and tithing and preaching and finding “the one,” the building we think will fulfill us. And in this mad frenzy to “be the church” and “go to church” and tick off all our boxes, we’ve lost sight of who we really are.
We are more than a building—whether it’s the “church” or a friend’s house.
We are more than the money in the offering plate, the songs we sing, the prayers we pray at the altar, the sermons we listen to, and the people we shake hands with on Sunday morning.
We are more than the congregation, even. More than the assembly, the gathering together, the fellowship.
We are something greater. Deeper. More powerful. We are the dwelling place of the Most High God—the ONLY GOD.
We are His Bride, His wife, His beloved. The one He calls for when night falls. The one He loves, no matter how many times we run. The one He wants to hold closer than any other, to know better than any other, to walk with and talk with—just as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. The one He wants to bless and make prosper. The one He cleaves to and, as it says in Genesis, becomes one flesh with. The one He wants.
We are His body, His hands and His feet, the same limbs that carried Christ throughout Israel and to Golgotha. The same eyes that beheld the glory of the Father, that gazed upon the wounded and saw their healing. The same hands that touched the leper and caressed the crowns of orphans. The same lips which said, “Go and sin no more.”
Bonhoeffer said in his The Cost of Discipleship:
“St Paul tells us that we are made member of the Body of Christ through baptism. But this is such a difficult statement that it requires further elucidation.
“It means that although Jesus has died and risen again, the baptized can still lived in his bodily presence and enjoy communion with him. So far from impoverishing them his departure brings a new gift. The disciples enjoyed exactly the same bodily communion as is available for us to-day, nay rather, our communion with him is richer and more assured than it was for them, for the communion and presence which is have is that of the glorified Lord. Our faith must be aware of the greatness of the gift. The Body of Christ is the ground and assurance of that faith. It is the one and perfect gift whereby we become partakers of salvation. It is indeed newness of life. In the Body of Christ we are caught up into eternity by the act of God.”
He goes on to say in the chapter:
“The Body of Christ is identical with the new humanity which he has taken upon him. It is in fact the Church. Jesus Christ is at once himself and his Church (I Cor. 12.12). Since the first Whit Sunday the Life of Christ has been perpetuated on earth in the form of his Body, the Church. Here is his body, crucified and risen, here in the humanity he took upon him. To be baptized therefore means to become a member of the Church, a member of the Body of Christ (Gal. 3.28; I Cor. 12.13). To be in Christ therefore means to be in the Church. But of we are in the Church we are verily and bodily in Christ. Now we perceive the whole wealth of meaning which lies behind the idea of the Body of Christ.”
Just think on that for a moment. Look up the scriptures he used. Dwell on it.
You’re done? All right—moving along, then.
Now, imagine that Dietrich, a pastor himself, knew what “church” really meant. Imagine that, maybe, he used something like “congregation.” Or else simply see the “church,” all negative connotations aside, as the image he presented to you—the Body of Christ.
The Body is not merely a collective group of people, the congregation that it was in early times. It can’t be. Not with freedoms we have. Not with the lives we live. Not when we have been blessed with the liberty to believe and to express that belief openly. Our every move isn’t being tracked. Our families (or, at least, most of them) aren’t ridiculing us or even disowning us for our faith. (If they are, then they’re the ones with the problem, seeing as how we live in America.) We don’t face death—a slow, painful, torturous death in front of thousands of laughing faces, while our children cry for us at home—every time we voice our opinions or do what’s right or be kind or so much as disobey the status quo.
The Body is so much more. It’s physical, emotional, mental. It’s all one thing, with so many different parts. It’s alive, it’s active—at least, it needs to be. It’s constantly going, talking and seeing and thinking and creating. Just like a normal human body does.
And better yet, it’s Christ’s Body. As God’s bride, we are one with Him. As the Holy Spirit’s dwelling place, we are one with Him. As Jesus’s Body, yet another incarnation, we are one with Him. We belong to Him in every single, possible, conceivable, imaginable, impossible way.
And so...we should be doing exactly what Jesus did and exactly what He told us to do. We have HIM in us. We can perform the miracles He did, through His power. We can say “Go and sin no more,” because we have His Spirit residing within us. We can lay hands on the ill, on the dying, and cast out the demons of sickness, according to His Will and His purposes (we wouldn’t feel led to do so if it weren’t), because of Him. We can prophesy. We can speak in the language of the Holy Spirit. We can love people, including our enemies, in a way they have never been loved before. We can take this Good News everywhere and we can grow up more disciples for Christ.
That’s our purpose.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Didaskō is the word used here, which is defined as “to teach, to impart instruction, to instill doctrine into one, to explain or expound a thing.”
“Go and tell them,” He says. “All of them. Baptize them. Make them one with Me. Tell them all that I have told you—that God so loved the world, that their faith has made them free, that the meek shall inherit the earth, that I am the Way. Teach them, so that they may teach other. Let this be a constant cycle. Let this never stop, never end with one soul. Reap a great harvest.”
This teaching of which Jesus spoke is different than our preaching or teaching today. Jesus never preached. He told stories. He answered questions. He asked questions, for that matter. He sat down with little children and told them about Noah and David and Jonah. He explained the mysteries of the Scriptures on the road to Emmaus.
And so the disciples went. They made more disciples, baptized them, told them to gather together and encourage one another, no matter how many more family members turn away or how many more soldiers come to town or how many other Christians are persecuted. They showed them the Way.
That was what they had been told, it was all the knew, and it was all they did. They were the Reformation, doing away with the temples and the Pharisees and the old covenant. Introducing the one and only Way—which at the time was what they called their “Christianity,” their “Church,” their “congregation.”
This is what we need to go back to. Teaching all nations. Following the Way. Abandoning the confines of the Jewish old covenant. Embracing oneness with Christ. In Him, we need nothing else. WE ARE NOTHING ELSE.
Now, I understand that if, after following this three-part series, you still have questions. So ask them. Pray about it. As Bonhoeffer said, "God will show us the hidden and make it visible." As Jesus said, "Seek and ye shall find."
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1995. Print.
Richmond, Rob. “Etymology of the word ‘Church’,” Calendar of Scripture, 24 Dec 2016, https://calendarofscripture.com/2016/12/24/etymology-of-the-word-church/
“Strong’s #1321: didasko.” Bible Tools, https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Lexicon.show/ID/G1321/didasko.htm
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Peabody, Ma: Hendrickson Marketing, 2009