“I do not go to church”.
That is what I am encouraging my church congregations to say. I think saying this can be a great act of witness in today’s world. And when people say it I would encourage them to say it with great conviction!
Now before you start sending in your messages of complaint let me say the following. I am encouraging church members to say, “I do not go to church. I am the church.”
If that sounds strange to you it would not have sounded strange to St. Paul or any of the New Testament writers in the Bible. When Paul wrote his letters to the church in Corinth or Ephesus, he was not addressing a building, he was addressing a group of Christians in that town or city.
In the New Testament the word for ‘church’ always mean’t a group of Christians gathered together, never a building to go to. One of the primary reasons for this was that Christians formed part of a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire until the adoption of the Christian religion by the state under the Emperor Constantine (272-337AD).
“So what?” You may be wondering. Personally I think it makes all the difference in the world for Christians today to see themselves as the church rather than as a building they occasionally visit, just as you would occasionally visit a shop or a club. Being a Christian is a 24/7 existence but that understanding to some degree was eroded when the message of Christianity became absorbed into the mentality of ‘Christendom’ – the idea that everyone shared the same world view as citizens within a Christian state.
In our age of the global community that world view continues to be deeply challenged within the traditional institutional church denominations, all born of Christendom. The challenge is now so acute that the only reasonable starting point to talk of a Church of the future is to begin by acknowledging its existence within a post-Christendom environment. But what will the Church of the future look like?
When Jesus called his disciples to follow him he called them into a way of life. “Follow me”, Jesus says and the earliest Christians reinforced this message by describing what they did together as “The Way.” (Acts 9:2) This metaphor provides a potent reminder that Christianity is fundamentally about movement and always has been.
Christians should see themselves as disciples of Christ, ‘learners for Life’, rather than as consumers of a pre-packaged religion with various spiritual products available from a static church building near you.
So, please do not go to church, instead be the church wherever you are.
Alone or together, in a church building or not, every day of the year.
For that is the Church that will have a future…