My brother-in-law asked an intriguing philosophical question the last time he was here. “Do you have to go to church in order to go to be saved?”
I thought it was a great question. Of course, the pizzas were just coming out of the oven, and the Kansas/Ohio State game was just getting underway, so it never did get explored in any detail. Never really got answered at all, honestly. But I still thought it was a great question nonetheless.
It actually got me thinking of another one, ironically while I was sitting in church this past Sunday: “What exactly IS ‘church’?”
Is it that place we (who actually go) spend our hour+ each weekend so we can say with self-righteous authority, “We’re Christians!!”? (Sorry, the cynical side of me had to get that one out.) Is it a place we go to get fellowship, give worship, submit to Lordship? Is it a building? A meeting of fellow “believers” (Acts 2, anybody?)
What exactly is this thing called “church”?
Well, I have an answer . . .
It may not be what it means to you, but I have seen what it means to me. And, like I said, it didn’t really hit me until I was actually sitting in our church this past Sunday.
You see, I’ve been meeting every Thursday, for the past several weeks, with another guy from our small group at our church’s coffee shop. We grab our lattes, go sit on one of the overstuffed, comfy couches in the church’s lobby and talk for a couple hours about . . . well, nothing and everything. I don’t know about him, but I generally leave more filled up and fired up than when I went in. He’s one of those kind of guys. The first week we met, as we’re sitting, shootin’ the breeze, I notice that the church is . . . busy! I mean there must’ve been a hundred or more people milling about, meeting in groups of anywhere from three to a dozen or more, and just doing . . . I don’t know, stuff! I asked my friend about all the people and he kinda nonchalantly says, “Oh yeah, those are the POD’s, the Pastor’s On Duty. Mostly Recovery ministry, some homeless people that need to talk, people that’ve recently lost jobs, that kind of thing. This is actually a pretty light day. You oughta come in on a Tuesday or Friday, that’s when we’re really rocking.”
A hundred-ish people or more? A light day??
“Yeah,” he says, “Didn’t you know that Real Life has the second largest Recovery program in the country?”
Right here? In Post Falls, Idaho???
I looked around on that Thursday–and every Thursday since then–and every time now I think, “THIS is church!”
I mean, the people that drop out of churches because they’re not getting “fed”; the people that leave all disgruntled because the pastor had the audacity to bring up “tithing”; come to Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho on a Thursday morning about 10:00 . . . I’ll buy you a latte and show you CHURCH!
Homeless people are given a meal, given clothes, given the gospel, given hope! Addicts are given a choice, and a path to follow to complete that choice! Marriages are prayed over, and often healed! Job fairs are given . . . not want-ad postings on a cork board, job fairs!!
THIS is what being “fed” looks like! (And I’m not talking about the people getting a meal. I’m talking about the people handing them out! I’m not talking about the people needing help with an addiction. I’m talking about the people praying with them, giving them referrals, giving them counseling–from personal, gut-wrenching, life-changing experience!)
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not bragging on Real Life. I’m just using it as an example. Trust me, there are plenty. But if you think that coming to a building once a week, planting your butt in a pew, hearing a few worship songs and a story out of the Bible, just so you can check off a box and say, “yup, went to church”: You have truly missed the mark! I know, because up ’til that first Thursday meeting with my friend, that was me.
Oh sure, a lot of the sermons are relevant. A lot of the worship songs are great. But the weekdays, in between the services, that’s church! How could I have missed it for so long??
I’ll never be the same. “Church” to me will never be the same.
I think he did it on purpose–my friend! He’s one of those kinda guys!
Oh, and to answer my brother-in-laws question . . .
No, I don’t think you have to go to church. We’re not asked to go to church. We are however asked to be one.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. ~ Romans 13:8
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. ~ John 13:34
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. ~ 1Peter 1:22
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin ~ 1John 1:7