Thursday, October 19, 2006

what is a church

Mark Roberts is blogging on what is a church? He's up to 11 parts so far.
In Section D, 13 October, he writes:
To sum up: When is a church not a church? If we take seriously the New Testament sense of ekklesia, then our answer is: When the church is not gathered together. To translate a bit more literally, The assembly is not the assembly when it isn't assembled. Now I certainly believe there's a sense in which we can be the church when we're scattered in the world, and I'll have more to say about this later. But, for now, it's important to note that there's something extremely important, and, indeed, essential about the actual gathering of Christians. Though there may be a derivative sense in which the church can be scattered, the regular assembly of believers is absolutely crucial to the health, if not the essence of a church.
Then in Section E, 18 October, he says:
It would seem that the early Christian use of ekklesia was indeed meant to be a bit seditious, but not in the ordinary manner.... they were setting up an alternative society which, as it grew, would indeed upset the apple cart of civic life throughout the Roman Empire. The Christian ekklesia was not some little religious club off in a corner, or some innocuous gathering fit nicely into Greco-Roman society. Rather, it was a thumbnail sketch of the kingdom of God. It was a foretaste of the new creation yet to come.
Then today, in Section F, Mark writes:
The Christian ekklesia was meant to be an alternative society, a thumbnail sketch of the kingdom of God.

So, for example, in the ekklesia of God, Jews and Gentiles, so often separated in Roman society, shared life together as brothers and sisters. Slaves could also be full participants in the Christian gatherings, enjoying equality in Christ with non-slaves, even with their masters. Women could actively participate in the gatherings just as long as they didn't engage in the scandalous behavior of the pagan cults. The theological truth that in Christ "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female" was lived out in the Christian assemblies (Galatians 3:28). They were, indeed, a kind of alternative society, one that implicitly rejected the domineering, separatistic, and elitist values of the Roman world.

Could it be said that the church in America today is also an alternative society? Perhaps, in some places and at some times, but I fear these are the exceptions to the rule. The church in our culture tends to play a very different role than what was once envisioned by Paul and the earliest Christians. On the one hand, we often reflect the fallen values of our society rather than the holy values of God's kingdom. For example, put a church in the middle of a materialistic culture and, odds are, the church will be materialistic too. On the other hand, we have often been satisfied to play a comfortable religious role in society, offering a spiritual narcotic to soothe jangled nerves rather than an alternative way of living under God's rule. We don't want to rock the social boat. We want to find our niche in society so that society will smile upon us. Of course there are some Christians, who, like the Amish, withdraw from society in order to live as God's chosen people. But they hardly reflect the reality of what the Christian ekklesia ought to be in the world.

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