Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What is Necessary in Order to be the/a Church?

This question echoed around in my head for several years while I lived overseas. As I prayerfully thought through this, layer upon layer of American cultural church baggage was stripped away for me. I began to think of the Presbyterian Church that I was part of prior to going to the field. Obviously certain physical structures began to fall away immediately. Most Christians would agree that while they like their church building you don't have to have a steeple, pews, red carpet or an organ to effectively be the church.

Then I started thinking about the life of a church in a typical week. You don't necessarily need a Sunday school, a youth group, or a benevolence committee to be a church. Those are all great things, but are not absolutely necessary to be the church. Then I started thinking about the way we met on Sundays. Do you have to meet on Sundays? Do you have to have a time of singing together? As someone who was a worship leader for many years I sure do like it, but is it necessary? Must you have a sermon preached every Sunday? This question makes many people very uncomfortable. In our very small body of believers in Spain we went for a long time with out any official sermon, but we always dedicated ourselves to meeting together and to studying the scripture. This study took on various forms, but it did not require that one person study the scripture and spoon feed the rest. Instead, being a small group of believers everyone was responsible to participate and bring something to the spiritual table. We fed, challenged and discipled one another. Were we the church or were we something else?

In my mind I began to compare the church to a house and this mental exercise caused me to do a spring cleaning. I took all of the furniture of this house out into the front lawn along with a bunch of trash that had accumulated in my mental understanding of what it meant to be a church. There are certain things for every house that are absolutely essential for it to be a house. It needs a foundation and walls and a roof. After that, there are some essential pieces of furniture which we tend to place in the house to make it more livable. After we have the structure and the furniture, then we get into the decorations. These are the individual aspects of each house which make it a home. Each house is decorated in a different way, and this may make a house more beautiful (or ugly depending on your taste), but not every house will choose the same decorations.

As we look at the church we must realize what the true foundation of this structure is. After that we should move on to some of the essential pieces of furniture. Then we can move on to decorating, but let us be cautious not to confuse the decorations with the foundation. Also, once we take out the garbage we should resist the urge to bring it back inside and throw it in the closet. That will just make our Church an unhealthy place.

So what do you think? What is absolutely necessary in order to be the/a church? What are some great pieces of furniture that every church should strive for? What are some things that are nice, but merely decorations? And finally, are your answers Biblically or culturally based?