You belong to a church and so do I. Regardless of what the actual name is of the Jesus community we belong too, we call it church. We belong to the church, the church of Jesus Christ.
But what does that mean to be the church?
I recently finished writing a paper on preaching and the responsibility we have, as the church, in the mission of God. In this article As The Father Has Sent Me, I Am Sending You, Michael W. Goheen discusses why early Christians continued identifying themselves with the word “church” (ecclesia) saying,
The original meaning of ecclesia was a public assembly to which all citizens of the city were summoned. The town clerk issues the call and the public gathering of citizens discussed and settled affairs that were important for the city’s life. This self-chosen name must be contrasted with the names that were given to the church by its enemies. Celsus and others referred tot eh church as thiasos and heranos. Both of these words were selected to interpret the church as a private religious cult that offered personal salvation by way of knowledge, self-discipline, and religious practice; religious communities of this kind received the protection of Roman law because they did not threaten the public doctrine of the Roman empire. The church refused to accept the designations of private religious fraternities but saw itself as a people participating in the end-time kingdom of God and launched into the public life of the world to challenge all competing allegiances, including most urgently, of course, the cultus publici of the Roman empire-the emperor cult.
That’s probably not something many churches will hear about in a Sunday sermon. In fact, many churches seem quite at home among the kingdoms (=nations) of this world.
I don’t believe a one to one comparison can be made between the Roman Empire and the United States or any other modern nation. But the fact that our fellow Christians insisted on being an ecclesia knowing that such identity made them a threat to the Roman Empire, which undoubtedly resulted in persecution, should create some questions.
I wonder how many of churches view themselves as an subversive threat the the national kingdoms of this world? My church doesn’t. Does yours? That’s the church I’ve never known.
Maybe that’s part of the missional problem with us Christians…we feel to at home in the national/tribal kingdoms of this age. And the irony is that many Christians my age and older can remember singing the old spiritual This World Is Not My Home!