Q&R with Greg Albrecht – “Rethinking Church”
I’ve been re-thinking my whole church scene. I enjoy church for what it provides. I like to see friends, I like to hear a good message, and I enjoy Christian music and hymns. But for me church has not been a God-encounter. In fact, outside of church and any of its activities and programs I am finding people in my life who inspire me and encourage me to dig deeper, and I like to think that I am doing some of that same kind of thing for others. The whole concept of not being concerned about where exactly I attend church and how often I physically show up inside of a building is new to me, but I am coming to believe that each one of us is a walking, talking 24/7 church.
You seem to be discovering the difference between the church and a church. It’s a distinction that can make some uncomfortable, for it suggests that the church is bigger than they can imagine, and beyond their ability to measure and quantify. We can easily confuse the fact that our relationship with other humans, particularly in a group that is organized for the purpose of being a healthy and vibrant part of the body of Christ on earth, is the defining element of our Christianity. The church is the spiritual body of Christ on earth. The church, the body of Christ, is universal, it defies legally incorporated boundaries and doctrinal definitions. The church is wherever God wants it to be, part of it is known and visible to us but most of it is not. We can and do know other Christians, but the vast majority of folks who are part of the universal body of Christ are unknown to us.
We are placed in the body of Christ by virtue of our acceptance of God’s gracious offer of his love and his grace. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we begin an eternal, personal and intimate relationship with God, and we become a part of the church. As part of the church we determine how and when we might gather together, in community, with others who are also a part of the church. Sometimes we do that in a building with four walls, sometimes we do that in other ways. When one is part of the church there are many ways to do church.
We may be members of the church without being members of a church, even though a church may insist that we cannot do so. A church may tell us that if we are simply members of the church, we are missing something and might even be “left behind”! But the ongoing belief of the church of Jesus Christ over the centuries has been that our relationship with a church is of far less importance than our relationship with the church.
Jesus did not speak of the church as a place to go but rather as a living relationship to and with him and with those who share that relationship – our brothers and sisters in the universal body of Christ. The church is something we are, far more than a place we go. Having a perfect attendance record at a church is not the goal of our Christian journey.
If and when our relationship with a specific group of people that gathers together in a particular building in a specific geographical location ends, our relationship with God continues. We are still part of the church. It can be a spiritual tightrope act to avoid attaching your primary spiritual identity with a geographically located church. It can also be a spiritual tightrope act to be an active part of the church without being a part of a church.
There are people who once joined a church after God placed them in the church but their relationship with a church (or several individual churches for that matter) turned out to be a nightmare. Some are worried that their relationship with God is not what it should be because they are not in a church, but they honestly cannot bring themselves, at least at this time, to be part of another geographically located brick-and-mortar church. They should realize that they are in the church, and their relationship with God is secure and safe.
Some say that we need to be part of a church so that we can fellowship with others. But our fellowship is primarily with Jesus, the head of the church – and we may fellowship with others without being in a church (1 John 1:3). Others warn that we can’t survive spiritually without the “covering of the body” – which is a religious innovation meaning that we will be spiritual chopped liver if we don’t show up on Sunday morning to watch a praise and worship concert, or alternatively, be dragged kicking and screaming over hot coals of hell.
There are many ways for us to be a part of the church in its physical manifestations in our world, culture and society. There are many ways for us to be involved, to give, to participate and to share with others the relationship that we have been given by God’s grace. One way is to be a part of a healthy, Christ-centered, well-balanced church. If a church is healthy, they will not make inordinate and unbiblical demands of us, such as 10 percent tithing, perfect attendance, oppressive demands and intrusions into our life outside of a church.
There is a place for a church, and there definitely is a place for the church. The church is eternal, but there will be a time when there is no need for a church, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb will be the temple of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22). Sometimesachurch works together in concert with the church, and sometimes a church doesn’t. The church and the church alone can supply the spiritual intimacy that God gives to his children. A church can help and assist and complement what the church provides –sometimes a church does and sometimes a church does not. There is nothing spiritually wrong, inferior or substandard with a child of God being in the church without maintaining membership in a church.
For more answers to tough questions, check out our book: