6 September 2016 - clay

What defines church? – Part 1

peoplegroup

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25

Those of us who believe in Christ typically take part in a weekly ritual which involves going to church. In this case, “church” is a noun describing a building in which a religious service takes place. However, does the location define whether the weekly ritual is performed sufficiently or can it be accomplished in another place, even online?

The word “church” comes from the Old English circe, which traces its origins through the German Kirche all the way back to the Greek kyriakon, which means “of the Lord”.1Etymology is fun. This comes from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=church. The Greek word most often translated as “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia, which more accurately means a meeting or assembly. The common usage at the time was a public assembly of citizens who had been summoned by the local government.

What does this have to do with the church? Let’s take the definition of ekklesia first. If we look at church as an assembly of citizens (Christians) who have been summoned by the ruler (God) then it makes perfect sense that weekly attendance should be preferred or even required for the believer. The writer of Hebrews even goes on to say that those who neglect meeting with other believers will not persist in their faith and encourages the regular meeting with other believers in order to maintain your faith and persevere.

If this is the case, if regularly spending time with other believers is a substantial boon to the practice of our faith, then how does that play out in the modern church? Does this meeting have to take place in the building that we define as a church or can it occur somewhere else, even online?

There is an idea in social theory called third places. For an individual, the first place is the home. The second place is work. The third place has eight basic characteristics:2As defined by scholars based on the work of Ray Oldenburg.

  1. Neutral ground
  2. A level place that puts no importance on social or economic status
  3. The main activity is conversation
  4. Accessible and accommodating
  5. Has a number of regulars
  6. Keeps a low profile
  7. Harbors a playful mood
  8. Feels like a home away from home

These characteristics can (and really should) define what the church is. The church should be somewhere that people feel comfortable being, that is no respecter of persons, and feels welcoming to the point of making a person feel at home. I’d argue a bit about whether the church should harbor a playful mood, but at the same time recognize that people are more prone to listen to what you have to say if you are able to disarm them with some humor.

All this being said, what then makes a church? Is it the walls that surround the building? Of course not. The church is made of people, the ekklesia, the fellowship of believers. However, I don’t think the idea set forth in Hebrews should be restricted to the traditional weekly meeting. I believe that anytime you congregate with other believers, whether that is on Sunday morning, Saturday night, in a home group during the week, at a coffee shop in the morning, or at the hospital when someone is sick is a meeting of the church. Each of these things encourages one another as the writer of Hebrews commands us to do.

What does this mean for an online space though? Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Etymology is fun. This comes from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=church
2. As defined by scholars based on the work of Ray Oldenburg.

Church / Hebrews

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