Pastor Gene Stockton
Heartland Baptist Church, Sioux City
What comes to your mind when you hear the word church? You might have a myriad of thoughts, ideas and emotions connected with this word. I have a challenge for you. In fact, I’m throwing down a challenge for you to be open-minded and to rethink what you assume you know about church. Are you with me? Okay, you might be thinking, I’ve been in and around the church all my life; I know what the church is all about. Are you sure?
The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The root meaning of “church” focuses on people. Ok, be honest, is this what came to your mind when you say or hear the word “church?” It is ironic that when you ask people what church they attend, they usually identify a building. But God’s word points us in the direction of people. Romans 16:5 says “… greet the church that is in their house.” Paul refers to the church in their house—not a church building, but a body of believers.
What follows from this type of misunderstanding or misuse of the word church? Our thinking and practice begins to coincide with the idea of “going to church” which means church is a location or destination. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. It gets more complicated. The destination becomes God’s house and contained in God’s house is the sanctuary. Where does this lead us? The focus turns from God and His ekklesia to a destination…a place, a room. Beyond that, a lot of resources are expended on maintaining, protecting and honoring this room. How many people do you know that refer to the building where the church assembles as God’s house? What about the room where we assemble for worship as the sanctuary? This isn’t what Jesus taught. This practice is a carryover from the Old Testament idea and practice of the temple. However, since the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), every born again believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God manifests himself in His people who belong to Him, not in a building.
Regrettably, Jesus’ idea of church has changed from a movement of people, who love and follow Him, to an institution. Instead of a movement of people sharing the gospel and making disciples as we are on the go, we’ve buried ourselves in our bunkers we call the church. The movement is now mostly directed to only those we can coax to enter the building. Conversely, since church is a movement of people, on mission for Christ, the ekklesia should be visible everywhere. We can put this into practice as we “get beyond the brick” as small groups in homes and serving in local schools and businesses as agents of Christ. After all, we are not defined as a building and we are certainly not confined to a location.
The founder of the “home church” movement in England, Canon Ernest Southcott, said it best: “The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God’s people—strengthened by preaching and sacrament—go out of the church door into the world to be the church. We don’t go to church; we are the church.”