First, the true church is the entire family of God. It’s NOT ONLY or JUST this or that specific local or even international stream of believer’s gatherings you like.
Those who truly follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in daily relationship of faith, love and obedience are indeed the church -including those who have died and are in the literal presence of the Lord.
You may not like ’em, strongly disaree with ’em, even in God’s Own view you may be more solid in theology and doctrine than they… but you don’t get to exclude them from the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Second, the church on earth is a mess. Always. Everywhere. Or it’s not an honest, for-real gathering of followers of Jesus Christ.
If it’s always neat, clean, well-behaved and “in order” (see Paul in 1 Corinthians 14.40) I’d say God is too smart (perfectly all-knowing actually) to allow really hurting peeps among you because you’d only mess ’em up worse with rules and regs, judgments according to personal opinion and likely a culture of “surface behavior” where one can easily play a “religious card” of pretense.
In other words, that sort of situation is a social club and nothing more. Jesus is among “those who NEED a physician”, “those who are sick” not those who exercise just enough control to -seem- like they’re sinless.
Again, those who follow Jesus Christ in faith and loving obedience in accord with His Word (The Bible) constitute “church” which is an assembly, a gathering of called-out ones who seek and walk with Him in daily fellowship.
A building with a cross on top, rental of a school, meeting in a coffeeshop, pub, parking lot or somebody’s living room? Frankly, I don’t care. None of those are scriptural absolutes regarding what constitutes a biblical church.
How about regularly meeting together?
Just like you and I meeting together with Father, Son and Spirit on a daily basis- you’d think hanging out with fellow believers as much as possible would be your desire as well as a directive from the Lord. Check out all the “one-another’s” written in context to believers throughout the Bible. If love and caring for one another were present in your life, wouldn’t you choose to link up a lot just as you would over other shared interests with people of like mind?
Ok, so you got my foundational stuff. What about form, format, how to DO and BE church”?
First, you gather -but for more than mere fellowship/friendship though that’s at core. As I just said above, sons and daughters of God via faith in Jesus are family. All families have different issues, sin indeed surfaces, they argue, they have ebb-and-flow in relationships, agree, disagree, sometimes part ways. Still with me so far?
So… what if you have a larger, say “extended family” where beyond blood ties, the same parents (Parent , that being God when you are spiritually born, born from above, born-again as Jesus said…) then what?
I’d say you hang out, eat together. You talk, pray, mow the lawn, work on each other’s cars, play in-house and outdoor games together, connect on social media, marry, bury, you do life together. You indeed worship individually but also together in a group because that’s what a close, intimate family in Christ does.
You have independent and gathered devotions, prayer, Bible study, share the Good News of Jesus verbally with one another and guests, friends, people “outside” the immediate and even beyond the extended family. You engage in the mission/s Jesus Himself calls us to. You verbally share the Gospel, share why you believe in the Risen Savior, you help make disciples, serve God and human beings (including enemies so much as they allow) in His love and as witness to His active life within and among you.
When you’re deeply in love with Someone it’s pretty automatic- you’ll share it with family and friends.
Oh yeah: Jesus said “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (see John chapter 15, etc. for details)! So individually and gathered together you naturally care most about pleasing the One you each love most. You naturally help one another do all this.
“But what about the FORM Glenn?”
Ahhh… what about it?
Does form ever fully equal substance? Ever?
Does the New Testament, Jesus in the four Gospels, Luke in Acts, Paul or Peter or James or others ever lay out a template of an absolute form of local assembly? Yep, I know the very verses in the minds of most readers as I ask this but I’m convinced the answer is NO. Attitudes, general behaviors, even permissions… but commands as to STRICT FORM of local church? Closest I can see it is from Acts where Luke tells us they “met daily in the temple and from house to house”. Therefore both/and, not either/or “or else”!
I have a number of traditional church friends as well as house church friends. At times extremists on both ends of the spectrum use intensely negative language about forms unlike the one they favor. So easy to refer to a preference as a scriptural absolute…
My favorite methodology of a gathered group of Christ followers -or your preferences in that regard- are not THE will of God for all believers in every place on the planet. Period.
But how easy to find methodologies we see as THE BEST and paint/judge/blast/trash other believers who are every bit as much part of the eternal family of God as we are!
This sort of immaturity and ranting is one of the very reasons some continue along in judgment to the extent of condemning all who might see things differently.
Oh well, “nothing new under the sun”.
The longer I live and the more I search the scriptures the less I am convinced those texts that indeed give instruction on how we are to conduct ourselves when we gather (sorry- this is a blog not a Bible study with proof-texts) the less I trust in the immaturity and lack of love, patience, grace and compassion of my brothers and sisters who are so quick to judge others as “lesser than” themselves in how they “do” church gatherings.
Believe me, I’ve done it in the past. I’ve found: “good” and began calling everyone out who needed to “wake up” to this or that PREFERENCE of mine/ours as though it were a “command of God”. My tradition vs. yours. New vs. old. Old vs. new. Believer versus believer!
There is much careful, exegetical (honest, thorough Bible interpretation) methodology left undone and when we are not willing to “hear what the Spirit says unto the churchES” we often park on an attitude of “WE GOT IT… THE REST OF YOU NEED TO GET IT LIKE -WE- DO”!
Such immature mistakes if not outright harsh, blanket judgments are made again and again in church history, one group against another.
Such is not the way of agape love.
I am NOT saying “anything goes”, nor that there is not a time, place and issue to discuss biblical doctrine and agree or agree to disagree. What I AM calling for is that we all work to grow in the fruit of the Spirit- and ourselves learn a deeper humility. May we take greater care before nursing grudges, talk faith one moment and demand full control because someone might hurt us again. As if WE’VE never been wrong or hurt another?! “MY way or the highway”? The sick truth is plenty who take such a stance judge others of acting precisely like that!!
Really? You’re fully wise and without sin in each and every judgment and relationship ‘eh?! Please. Self-deception is first a matter of -self-.
Methinks bridges are not walls. Sometimes we’re walling ourselves off from godly, mature brothers and sisters who “also have the Spirit of God” to quote Paul.
Something to consider here perhaps?
As always, thanks for stopping by:) -Glenn