What is the church?: Part 1

The Norm

Sunday mornings during my childhood were spent at church. Every Sunday, it seems like. I swear that I can count on one hand the number of times my family missed church growing up. Of course, I’m probably recreating a memory that is unrealistic. There were certainly times when my family was absent from our pew–those of you church people know what I mean. But still, my family’s usual protocol was to be in church on Sunday morning.

As I think back on my church experience, my young impression of church was that it was a place where we went on Sunday mornings. There was a preacher. There was Sunday school. There was monthly music club. There were older kids who got to sit in two pews near the front together. There was much to do at church. The lawn needed mowed. The fellowship hall needed to be set up for carry-ins and cleaned up after. Someone had to make the power point presentations.

In all of this I understood church was a place. It was about going somewhere on Sunday to listen to a sermon and sing some songs. It was about Sunday school and youth group.

For must of us, this still is church. It’s a place we go on Sunday mornings. Maybe we also go a different day of the week too. For those of us who attend trendy churches, we might also attend a small gather of “church” during the week. Those gatherings might be called community groups or connect groups or–for the uncreative–small groups. In all of these cases church is still a thing we go to. It’s a program or service or an “experience”.

The Return

From time-to-time churches look to mix-up the “norm”. Often these mix-ups attempt to be a return to the past. These churches look to get back to the basics. An example is house churches, which have become very popular. These groups often view their movement as a return to the way church was intended based on the New Testament.

The house church movement is just one example of many movements that have sought to return to the church practices and structures of the New Testament. The return isn’t about the practices or structures, it’s about the ideas behind them. Getting back to the New Testament. Returning to the way that church was intended.

This is all good, but when we think about a New Testament church, we miss something important. We miss the story. We miss that there isn’t just a New Testament, but also an Old Testament. Some have even called it the First Testament (see John Goldengay’s translation of the Old Testament for example). Together the Old and New Testaments tell the story of God.

Exclusively New Testament churches miss a big part of the story. Because of this, they are incomplete. I understand that this is quite a claim, but it’s something that I want you to start thinking about.

How might the Old Testament inform our understanding of what the church is? Let’s take a look.