Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Clear Christianity: Defining what it means to "be the church" and "follow Christ"

Intentional, Definitional church

What does that mean, you ask? When I "joined the church" ..I heard words and terms for which I knew not their meaning. I went along with it (danger, danger!!) As I grew, and when I darkened the door of seminary, and likely prior, I began to hear references to things such as "house church"and "missional house church". Many believers began using the term "simple church". A little further down the road we began to hear the term "organic" church. These are all accurate in their means and intentions, though possibly none of them are "complete" in their meaning of what constitutes what / who "church" is. I would argue that "organic church" comes as close as anything I've ever heard. Scratch that.... how about ... "biblical church"?

Are we splitting hairs?? I am very glad for a Christ-follower that is "in the fight", as opposed to one who is happy to be on the sidelines. By definition, the early church did not have the option to stand on the sidelines! Peter tried it, and was so convicted that he got back on his proverbial horse, manned-up, and fought the good fight ....'til the death it would appear. But that picture, that image of "the early church" seems to be either ignored, skewed, warped, or at least neglected today ....and that is all done by us ..."the church". The ones who are supposed to be in the fight! It is no wonder I have heard, over and again, "You Christians can't even agree!" To which an appropriate response is.... "can't agree on what??" or "...with whom?"

Communication, communication, communication. It is "on us", Christ-followers, to provide clarity as to who we are, what we believe, why we believe it, and Whom we believe. (1 Peter 3:15) The older I get the more profound, significant, and critical "word meaning" becomes ...especially in American / western culture, where words take on new meaning, and / or relative meaning, every day it seems. "American English", as it is, is a "lose" language. Conclusively, this affects people in different ways. Some will take a word, term, statement, or phrase to mean something specific to the relative environment around them. More to the point ....statements / words are taken as relative to the "culture" around them. The obvious example of this, of which we all know the technically correct answer to, is the use of the word "church". We say that we are "...going to church". More accurately, we are "...going to be the church", "...going to be with our brothers and sisters of the church." So again, am I splitting hairs? We all know what we mean when we say that ....right? The end result is that we get together with believers and, hopefully, act out the living organism of "Christ' church".

Here's the rub with failing to be "intentional" in our language. A Scripture reading, somewhat mature Christ-follower will have no internal conflict with the term, as an example, "..we are going to church." He / she understands at least the basic concept of 'ekklesia'. So, whether you call it going to church, or going to eat duck ..does it really matter? I contend that it DOES MATTER to the un-believer, or even to an immature believer (maybe more emphasis on this person). Our understanding of meaning becomes embedded in our thinking, and therefore in our acting a thinking out, Conclusively, we begin to place more significance (sticking with the example) on the place "where" we worship and fellowship than we do on whom the church is, and quite tragically ....even Who's the church is. I've heard of "church buildings", or fellowships, being named after family-names; presumably in honor of a family who founded it! What an atrocity! What a tragedy!! What would this speak to someone "looking" for Jesus' church? Would they find Him there?

How many men and women have become "burned out on church", or become confused, feel displaced .....simply because he / she really did not understand the "rules of the game" as it were? Is the answer "simple church"? Well, what does that "mean"? Is the answer "missional church community"? Well, what does THAT mean?

Definition is important. Therefore, being "intentional" is important. This means being and doing "on purpose" and "with purpose". It doesn't conclude we should become paranoid with our words, and over-define each one. It does mean "keeping the main thing the main thing", and therefore "defining the main thing(s)". "Church" is worth defining! Being "Christian" is worth clearly defining! As disciple-making followers of Christ .....we have an inherent obligation to help "set new believers (especially) up to succeed!" Handing a fairly new believer a bible, a Sunday School class, and a pat on the back like equipping a 16 year-old boy with rifle and shipping him off to the front-lines ...and only showing him where to stand so that he may not be shot ..or worse, no training at all. We wouldn't do that!! We would not send someone, knowingly, into harms way without providing the best training possible ...all that we can do to ensure his / her success. Why, then, do we allow it to occur in our "Christ-following fellowships"?

So, what does it mean to be intentional? Definition is required. This is not a call to simply "throw away church words" so much as it is to "define" those "church words"! There may be, and I'm sure there are, many that need thrown away. But more often than not ....these words we "more mature" Christians make fun of ...had "meaning" once upon a time. They had purpose. They had definition.

These are "fundamental" things. Like learning the basic rules of baseball (how to field a ground ball... moreover, how to wear, and position, the glove by which you will field a ground-ball), these fundamentals are an important step in growing as a follower of Christ, and as a functioning member of His body, the church. We wonder why we have so many dys-functional Christians. We throw our hands in the air and wonder if they're really "saved", or dub them as "back-slidden", or just hope they'll "catch-up". It is the role, and duty, of the body / the church to "bear one another's burdens." (Galatians 6:2) What "burden" might a new Christ-follower have ....a burden for thinking he / she is supposed to look, act, think a certain way ...hoping to "make it in the club". All wrong-thinking, but where does this wrong-thinking come from? From the world?? Most surely! It isn't of the Father. So what does "the church" do to aid, and right, that thinking?

I believe part of the answer comes in the form of "definition", and being "intentional" about doing so. A periodic "reboot" seems to be in order for us ....Christ' church. It's not because anything changes with the definition of His church, who His church is, or what her role is for the Kingdom. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yet, it is we who change! We change meanings, we change our minds, we shift directions (as individuals and as a culture) often without even realizing the change. "We" are inconsistent. This makes the term "getting back to basics" important. My argument is that we need to return, often, to the basics .....not neglecting the weightier things, the progressive nature of Christ-followers living out the gospel in their lives ......but not neglecting the fact that those same, maturing followers, returning often, to teach, and re-teach, fundamental Christianity is not just important ...but critical to those who'll come after us ...maybe "generations" after us.

So, how do we become intentional? Maybe it's simpler to, first, state what intentional is NOT, or not only...
  1. Being "intentional" doesn't necessarily mean "busier".
  2. Being "intentional" doesn't necessarily mean "more active".
  3. Being "intentional" doesn't necessarily mean "moving more"
These are fine things, though I fear much of this line of thinking is modeled after the work-world / business-world. It should be the other way around. I could have just saved this entire article and simply stated... let's not put the cart before the horse. But again, what, exactly, does that mean? It is a true statement ....if we understand the context of what it means, and the origin of the statement. This is how we should study Scripture. It is not the "only" way we study Scripture, but it is a fundamental thing we do to properly interpret Scripture, from its grammatical position, its historical, its narrative, and its over-all story-line. "The church", being a living, breathing, truth of Scripture .....should not be neglected by we Christ-followers defaulting to a "learn by the seat of your pants" mentality. There will be enough of that kind of learning, for any believer, despite our best efforts. But that does not negate our "best efforts".

If we fail at all else, church, let us not fail at clearly stating that which we, the church, are, and if applicable... what we are not. When we use terms and language ...let's take the time to apply meaning and purpose. For the new believer, let's be a part of setting him / her up to succeed. For the world looking at "Christians" and trying to understand who we are, and what we mean by our actions and words, let's be purposeful, deliberate, intentional. It is, indeed, additional effort ....but there is no labor more greatly needed than a lost and dying world to see a true representation of Jesus Christ and His church. "Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." The wisdom is in knowing the difference. Pray for wisdom.