If you are like me, you have had to do some re-thinking on your usage of the word “church” lately. Pre-COVID, I would often say, “Let’s go to the church,” or “Is it time for church to start?” But now, those statements don’t make much sense. Recently, I have heard people ask, “When will church open back up?” To which, I want to respond, the church is still functioning; it has not closed! The problem is in our usage of the word “church.” Often we have viewed “church” as a building that we go to or an event that we attend. But that is not what the church is.
The first time the word “church” is used is Mt. 16:18 is where Jesus responds to Peter’s confession that He is the Christ by saying, “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” He was not talking about a building, but a people. The Greek word for church is ekklesia which means assembly – a gathering of people. Now, there are occasions where the church is compared to a building, like in Ephesians 2:19-20 where Paul describes an edifice where Jesus is the chief cornerstone and the foundation are apostles and prophets. Then later in 1 Pet. 2:4-10, the church is described as living stones built into a spiritual house, on top of the Living Stone, Jesus Christ. Yet still, both of these metaphors are describing people. The consistent witness of the New Testament is that the church is a collection of people committed to the Lordship of Christ and His mission.
For all of my life (and maybe yours), I have associated church with a building and the Sunday morning gathering in that building. I have associated them so closely that I called these other things “church”, when they really are not. One thing that this pandemic is forcing me to come to grips with is the question: what does it mean to be the church? And what I have been reminded is that the church is not a what but a who. The church is a community of people and we gather for worship and we serve together. We can do that in a building. But we can also do that in our homes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for our church building. I am thankful for the renovations happening on our building that so many have generously given toward. Yet I realize that my faith does not depend on 2101 Hemphill St. My faith depends on Jesus Christ. The building is simply a tool. A tool that we can use for worship gatherings, Bible classes, ministry events, and mission outreaches. But while a drill may help me accomplish hanging a picture, that drill is not the same as the picture. It is the same way with a church building.
I know there are many of us very anxious to get back to the building. I get it because I am one of those people too. There is something nostalgic and worshipful about being in a space that has meant so much to so many of us. Yet, maybe we should be thankful for this waiting time because we are being reminded what the church is: a people united together for the gospel of Christ. Whatever form our worship gatherings may take, we are still the church!