I was reading a blog on the 'Deep Church' site I read often and there was an article about church and what it was. It made me think. What church is perceived to be and what it really is are two different things altogether.
When you ask non-Christians - and sometimes even Christians - what 'church' means to them then they often talk about the 'established' church as it is called. They usually mean either the Catholic Church or Church of England and its usually in reference to their leadership. People are at the moment criticising 'the church' for its attitude to different things - like abortion, contraception and gay priests. Even The Pope, the Head of the Catholic church, recently said that only apostolic churches are real churches, and no other 'churches' are.
What the Bible says about the church is very different.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church with a message to them and in turn us about what church was and still should be. He says "Now you are the body of Christ and each of you is a part of it." (1 Corin 12 v 27). He had just been talking about what a body was, a few verses earlier he says "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ..." (1 Corin 12 v 12).
Paul continued and developed this theme in the letter to Collosians . He writes "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church" (1 Collosians 1 v24).
What's the message here? That the church is not an institution or organisation. It is a body. It is alive. Like a living organism it has different parts with different roles and different gifts. This in practice means church is a community, a family, a group of Christians growing together and supporting each other prayerfully and practically. My church is just like this. Its a group of people who have fun together, worship together, pray together, study the Bible together and share experiences of God. We support others who are in difficult situations through prayer or by helping out practically. We go through difficult and good times together and are welcoming and accepting of new people. We reach out to our local community and try to be part of it. People with different skills and gifts use them to build up and serve the church and each other. It disciples and trains its members to develop their relationships with God and offers prayer ministry for those who need it.
That is what church is. Its a living organism which supports each other and if it puts Jesus at its centre it grows and flourishes. Ever noticed the growing churches are generally the ones with the best and most Biblical teaching and the ones that are dying are the ones without it? Its because Jesus is the heart of the church, and without Him it dies.
All churches by definition are apostolic anyway, as if they are made of Christians then ultimately they all exists because of the work of the apostles. Whether they are denominational or non-denominational it doesn't matter. They are all churches as the Bible defines them.
Christians are all members of 'the church'. For their spiritual growth its important to be part of a church community, indeed all the language of church talks of community. As long as these groups exist, they are meeting together (no matter what the number) and are putting Jesus at the centre, then there is real church. No matter what the Pope says. I'm here to tell him and everyone who wants to know - church is not an institution and is not limited by denomination. It is non-denominational, it is Christian and it is Biblical.