What is the church?

What is the church? 

A question pregnant with other questions.  When that question delivers, I think the little baby questions that will be running around it’s feet include: What did Jesus want for the church?  How closely are we measuring up today?  What should we do to bridge the gap between what it was supposed to be and what it has become?  Is it better to work at rebuilding the current church from within or start rebuilding the whole deal from the outside?

The mama question and her little quadruplets were most recently brought to my attention at posts here and here.

I thought I’d make an attempt at laying some groundwork to what the answers to these questions might look like here.  (No, you don’t need to click that “here” just keep reading. 😉 )

Scripture tells us that the church is both the bride of Christ and the body of Christ.   These two images end up being one and the same.   The people within a marriage become one flesh.  So in the act of marrying Christ, the church becomes his body.

And what should the church do?  The same thing Jesus did in his body: heal the wounded, share the good news, proclaim the jubilee of Jesus, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.   Jesus spent time alone.  He gathered up his disciples occasionally.  But this was always in the context of preparing for his next guerilla strike into the culture around him. 

We might have lots of debates (in fact we probably should) around what this looks like in 2008.  But it’s clear to me that what this does not look like:

A bunch of people retreating into a “fellowship hall” for a potluck with no plans except for Sunday and Wednesday attendance at the same church.

I have nothing against pot lucks.  (Though, seriously, do any of us need any more variations of pasta/marinara sauce/cheese/meet caserole in our lives?)   But I think that we lose sight of the fact that Jesus was busy going out, he was busy sending his followers out, into the world.

As I consider that “church” potluck I am left with a question I don’t have the answer to.  It’s probably provacative to even ask it.  But a little provacation never hurt anybody.  My question is this:

Which is more of a church: the pot luck described above or an agnostic nurse and an agnostic doctor working away in a third world country somewhere on the least among us?

 This post was submitted to Randy Elrod’s Watercooler Wednesday.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “What is the church?”

  1. Jeff,

    Thanks for joining us around the watercooler. Ah, yes. A poet. I was just talking to the ditors of Worship Leader magazine yesterday about the dearth of poets with a Christian world view. May your tribe increase!

    I have added your link to my blogroll. I would love it if you would consider adding me to your blogroll as well.

    My blog is: Ethos and the URL is:


    Thanks so much.



  2. I keep hearing this in different ways lately, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to a garage makes you a mechanic.” So I suppose every situation is different, a pot luck could very well be an incredible time of growth and worship and telling of the good news. I think like anything else, the Potluck needs to be reigned back. Everything in moderation……..


  3. Thanks, Jeff. You are the church. I am church. We are the church. I know there’s a lot more layers to it than that, but at the end of the day, that’s what brings me comfort–the simplicity of it all. We don’t have to do it; we just have to be it.


  4. So . . . this isn’t really where this post is going, but it IS where a couple of previous posts were going, so I’m curious to know your thoughts:

    I agree with what you say about the Body and Bride of Christ metaphors. Given what the concept of marriage and oneness mean for our understanding of Christ’s relationship with people, I wonder how you interpret the concept of that relationship as meaning for our understanding of human marriages? And how that affects your assessment of the whole Christians-marrying-nonChristians thing? (Maybe this is a separate post or something, but I had to ask.)

    Also, more in line with what you’re actually talking about here, remind me sometime to talk to you/Marty/somebody about this theology/philosophy discussion/hang-out group idea I have hypothetically nicked from my brother.


  5. Jeff:
    You’re exactly right. It is on many levels so simple and natrual. As the small groups guy for our local church I’m constantly battling with myself because the temptation for me is to create all these artifical systems in the name of building community. Mostly, anything I do is going to just get in the way.

    As usual, your questions are more interesting than my answers, I think. But let me give it a try:
    I used to have this idea that the whole one-flesh thing meant that somehow it was going to be easy to get along and that the image is rather beautiful.
    As I pondered it, it occured to me that it’s actually a bit creepy. It’s more accurate, I think, to realize that in marriage or by joining the body of Christ, we become like a conjoined/siamese twin.
    My wife and I spent many years as a symbolic siamese twin, in some sense on flesh but still wanting to go our way. She’d want to go left, I’d go right, we’d end up wanting to go nowhere. This was partially because of the fact that she was a Christian and I wasn’t. But it could’ve happened for all sorts of reasons.
    In the church, it’s the same deal. We’re one flesh but if we don’t submit to each other then it’s going to be much more complicated than if we were many fleshes.
    I’d be quite interested to hear about said idea nicked from your brother… feel free to email me. Do you have Marty’s email? I’ll send it to you if you don’t… if you’d rather it’s fine with me if you simply post it here, if you’d like to make it public knowledge.


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