It is really easy to view the church as an event on Sunday mornings. I have even recently heard people use the word “churching” when it comes to their attendance at a Sunday gathering.
Saturday night we’re “clubbing” and Sunday morning we are “churching.”
The problem with this, beyond being really odd, is the scripture. It seems like the early followers of Jesus did not view church as an event but as an identity. Certainly in the Greco-Roman world “ecclesia” described an assembly or gathering and this is something the early Jesus community did, but it was much deeper than this.
Church was family.
Peter puts it like this in a letter he wrote to some communities spread throughout the Roman world:
4As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 NIV)
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV)
To Peter the church is the new temple, the new Israel and the new people of God.
A quick thought on each:
THE NEW TEMPLE
History shows us that the Temple in Jerusalem was the epicenter of Judaism. The High Priest would go into the Holy of Hollies and perform sacrifices for Israel. It was the place where sins were forgiven. Ultimately, to Israel the temple was the place where God dwelt.
What Peter says to the church is so upside-down. No longer do we need a sacrificial system and a place to go. Now, we as the church, are living stones in this spiritual house. God, through His Spirit, dwells in us! It’s a game changer. We as the church can gather anywhere and God is among us.
THE NEW ISRAEL
The Old Testament is the story of Israel.
God not only called Israel to “be holy” (Leviticus 20:26) he also declared that they were a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6)
Now Peter is using similar language with the church to show us that we are enabled to do the same.
Jesus fulfilled the story of Israel and now we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to “be holy” and be this “kingdom of priests” in the world.
THE NEW COMMUNITY
This is why church is not simply an event. What God desires to have is a community of people for Himself. Peter shows us that our lives before Jesus were “not a people” but because of his saving work we “are the people of God.”
We were individuals living our own lives. Now we are a community!
We have to remember that when Jesus returns as king of the world he is not coming to inhabit church services. He will be ruling over a new creation, a new people. The call for us is to be a foretaste of that future kingdom right here and right now.
Do you see it? This is way bigger than 80-90 minutes on a Sunday. Certainly we gather passionately as the church but we are not “churching” we are the “people of God.”