Ekklēsia:I

Called out, sent in.

If you follow me on twitter, or have me as a friend on Facebook, you may have became aware of something. Perhaps at first you thought I had a little bit of a crush, the photos and updates would lead to that conclusion, then as it kept up you figured that it’s more of an infatuation. The thing is, it’s neither of those. It’s love. I love church. It’s not a passing fad, it’s a lifelong commitment – we are even Facebook official. I am hoping that you might bear with me as I dedicate a few blog posts to exploring the beauty that is the church.

I think that the best way to start looking at the church is to try to get some kind of definition. What am I talking about? What exactly do I love? Even amongst Christians there is often a misunderstanding of what the church is, getting that right is a great step. Something my Pastor, Jon Cook, often reminds us of is that church isn’t a building; we have a building, and a very nice one at that, but we are not a building. This isn’t a point of culture or a quirk of our particular church, it’s a correct understanding of what the church is.

In his gospel, Matthew relates a conversation between Jesus and the disciples in which He asks them who people say that He is; after hearing the answer He then asks the question of who they say that He is and Peter replies that He is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus replies with the only recorded statement we have from Him referring to the church.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
– Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

The Greek word used for church is ekklēsia and that word means people who are called out from the world and to God. It does not, in the sense spoken, mean a particular building, a particular leadership structure, or a particular set of traditions or rules. The church is the people who God has called out from the world to be His. By it’s nature it includes leadership, though Christ radically redefined the traditional view on what leadership is, and it meets in buildings because large groups of people need places to meet but it’s not defined as those things. Jesus talks about those who are called out in his final prayer with the disciples.

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
– John 17:15-19 (ESV)

So we’re called out from the world and yet we are not taken out of the world? Well, yes. We’re called out, set apart as a people dedicated to God. In the Old Covenant the children of Israel were called out and set apart as the people through whom God would outwork His plan to bring redemption to all flesh, since the coming of Christ it is now His church who are called for the same purpose. When the church meets we should be carrying the DNA of heaven; I’ve heard people who’d never been to church before talk about the atmosphere in our church and wrestle with the limitations of human language to express what is inexpressible; there is something different about church and that is the fact that it’s not of this world. We are in our worlds because the kingdom of heaven is here and, as N.T Wright says, we’re the advance guard – breaking into our world and establishing that kingdom on earth.

The church, operating as it should, could not be contained by four walls regardless how much space was between them because it is by it’s very nature proactive and outgoing. When talking to Peter, Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. Now if you’re thinking of the church as a building then that doesn’t make sense – a building doesn’t move and nor does a set of gates – but when you see the church as a called out people? Then suddenly you have a called out people storming the darkness and pulling people into the light; it’s not a passive statement, it’s an active view of an unstoppable kingdom advancing. Last night I sat in a cinema and watched Argo, a film in which a CIA operative rescues people from enemy territory; part of the church’s design is to do the same thing on a massive scale. It’s not a game, it’s not about who has the best set of traditions or the most trendy style, it is God’s rescue mission to the world and like any rescue mission it is intentional, urgent and active.

And that is church, it’s very definition is a people who are simultaneously called out and sent in. A group of people joined by blood and spirit into a welcoming family. A people dedicated to being the answer to the world’s hurt and pain; a welcoming environment where people can worship regardless of age, gender, sexuality, race, religion. No one is going to stop you on the door and ask you ten questions on theology before you come in, come as you are. It’s an environment where people remember your name and who you are, where they’re genuinely glad to see you come back. It’s a church where the lost are found and where every soul saved is a celebration. It’s in this world, but can I tell you something? My church is out of this world.

This is the first post in the Ekklésia series, other posts in this series are:
Ekklēsia:II – Love The Church
Ekklēsia:III – Give Yourself Up For It

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Photo from Peter Jobes, all rights reserved.

3 Comments

  • John Jobes says:

    When I came out of the previous church I used to attend I felt God guiding me to LWC in Laygate, South Shields (About 19 months ago). The love and the life of God’s Spirit there is truly amazing. I feel it when I visit NCLC and I fely it when we visited a church in Newton Aycliffe a number of weeks ago. The church is the Bodfy of Beleivers in Jesus Christ. I beleive I belong in LWC as my local church, but I do feell bonded with all born-again Christians. Because of the Holy Spirit within them, I am the wealthiest person on the face of the earth.

  • Samaria says:

    Truth. A lesson I learn more and more as I am fed spoonfuls of grace in my community.

    (As you already know ;) ) I didn’t become a Christian until I was 19 years old. Before that I was a rather opinionated Atheist who believed like Nietzche, that God was “dead”. An unending stream of pain and a complete breakage of my ego brought me to the realization that I needed help. My “moral code” was insufficient. Lost and confused, I finally opened up the NIV bible my Grandmother’s church sent me when I was 8 (the very same “archaic”book I had laughed at my high-school friends for reading). I was desperate for rest. I needed grace, but I could not articulate it. I needed Jesus’s hand on my soul and on the wheel of my life. I was out of control and man… it was pretty damn scary.

    Something broke in me that year and an amazing thing happened. I was more loving and patient towards people I had always thought unlovable and intolerable. I was willing to see everyone in the same desperate condition I was in, and I wanted to feel warmth and love.

    But unfortunately my love for grace was met with a lot of opposition in my faith community. I started going to a very small Baptist church my first year as a Christian. As a former liberal agnostic with non-Christian parents, I was not met with the same grace I felt when I had my first vulnerable encounter with the God-man. My skirt was too short. My walk was too sexy. The long skirts I wore showed my panty-line and I was causing my brothers to “stumble”. I cursed “too much”. Was I “even really saved?”. Oftentimes I would sit by myself in the back pew (where an elderly widow would sit with me… my only Godly female influence). No one wanted to know my name. No one cared about my past. No one was concerned about my progress as a believer. The “fruit” I was being judged by was often very worldly, cultural, shallow and appearance based. There was little to no concern for my heart or for what I was placing my trust in.

    Eventually the burdens grew too heavy to bear, and I cracked under the pressure. A young pastor-friend of mine pointed out that not all who appear to be sheep are sheep. Sometimes Christians can be Christian-wolves. He reminded me that the gospel was not about our efforts, but Christ’s perfect record. I needed gospel-centered community. I needed to feel Christ’s loving presence again.

    Through prayer and earnestly seeking community, God was gracious to me and lead me to the church I am currently attending. A young girl approached me the other day and thanked me for smiling so earnestly every Sunday during worship. I am so grateful to know others, to bear their burdens with them, to feel the love of a servant’s heart, and to be met with forgiveness and grace at every turn. For my every failing, I am reminded by other Christians to give three glances to the cross. For my every doubt, three glances at the empty tomb.

    While Satan will often use other Christians to devastate Christians (especially new Christians) there is nothing more sanctifying than to live in true Gospel community.

  • Peter J says:

    Dad, It’s great to see how you’ve settled and grown in your new church. :)

    Samaria, it’s a sad thing that your first experiences of church didn’t represent it at it’s best, but it’s great that you’ve stuck with church and serving and are doing well now.

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