Discovering church while there’s no church

What can we do while we can’t go to work, can’t go to church, can’t go to the gym, can’t go out with friends? It’s not just the activities we miss; it’s the meaning we find in sharing life. So, what meaning can we find while we can’t get together?

We’ve tended to think of church as a place to go on Sundays. The church meets to worship and sing praise, to be in God’s presence and pray, to teach and inspire each other, and to invite others to join. We give our money and time to support the church’s activities.

That’s not the meaning of church: that’s just what it does. When someone says, “I’m an accountant” they’re telling you what they do, not their identity. We’re so much more than what we do, though it is possible to lose ourselves in our work and become a “human doing.” In the same way, the church is so much more than what it does on weekends, and now would be good to grasp that identity.

The church doesn’t exist to meet. It exists to implement the governance of King Jesus in his earthly realm. The word church (ekklēsia) was a political word, like the assembly that gathered around King David or King Solomon (see Why “Church”?). The church is the community of people scattered across the globe who acknowledge Jesus as Lord and implement his vision for the world.

We are agents of Jesus’ government. Before you put on a uniform and start barking orders remember how Jesus implemented his kingship. Most people don’t recognize Jesus’ kingship yet. He isn’t forcing them to, and neither are we. We’re called to implement his caring governance the way he did.

Peter summarized the way Jesus exercised his kingship like this:

Acts 10 38 God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

Doing good. Releasing those who are suffering. Freeing people from oppression into the reign of God’s anointed. This is what he empowers us to do too. Jesus’ first act when he ascended the throne was to empower his servants with his anointing, so we can all enact his caring kingship of the earth — beginning from Jerusalem, and extending to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

The body of Christ is the physical presence of the king. The body implements what the head wants done. The Holy Spirit animates his body, gifting us with power to speak divine wisdom, know what people need, trust his provision, heal the hurt, do things beyond our power, hear what God is saying, recognize conflicting agendas, and converse with God beyond our understanding. The church doesn’t exist to have religious experiences; all these expressions of the Spirit are given to the body to benefit the community that exists under the head (1 Corinthians 12:7).

If I have all the spiritual experiences you could desire but lack love, I’m empty. If we have a stage full of musical instruments and lights and the best sound gear you can buy but we don’t have love, we’re just an annoyance to our neighbours (compare 1 Corinthians 13:1). We exist to implement our King’s loving care in his realm.

How do you think Jesus feels with much of his earthly realm in lockdown? Who does his heart go out to? Who are the people in your world who fall through the cracks because they haven’t been with their employer for 12 months or they don’t have citizenship? What would it mean to love these neighbours the way you love yourself?

While we can’t meet, let’s seize the opportunity to be the church, the agents of earth’s true king:

1 John 3 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. …
23 This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

How exciting to discover what we’re called to be — redeeming the time while the days are evil.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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