WE are the CHURCH
Ever since the world went on COVID-19 lock down and stay-at-home orders were issued, the terms “essential” and “non-essential” have loomed large in our discourse. Businesses and services deemed “essential” were kept open: supermarkets, hardware stores, gas stations, pet stores, launderettes, and so forth. Many others, deemed “non-essential,” were ordered closed until further notice: gyms, movie theatres, casinos, retail stores, sports stadiums, and concert venues. Churches fell in this latter category.
The vast majority of churches obliged and cancelled their services, understanding the logic of large in-person gatherings posing high risks for virus transmission. Most have waited to get the government’s green light to begin gathering again, which is happening more and more across the United Kingdom.
I missed church. I bet you did too. And I bet that you or someone in your house has said this exact phrase over the past 5 months. What exactly does it mean that we are the church?
Theologically, we all know that “church” is not a building. We understand that “church” is the body of Christ. So more precisely, I think, when we say we miss “church”, we mean more than that. We miss the people. We miss the things we do together as people; worship and communion and conversation and prayer and hugs and food. We miss the community of faith. We miss each other and we miss the practices that renew our faith each week as we re-enact the promises of Scripture through our worship and celebration.
When the word “church” comes up in conversation, the first thing we think of is a building. We have this mindset that church is a place we go to on Sundays. As we get our family dressed, fight through traffic and get a good seat, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we aren’t just going to church; we are the church.
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul describes the church as people dedicated to doing whatever it takes to reach out and help others. We have a responsibility to serve and help others in need as the church. Caring for each other as well as those outside of the church is the quickest way to see Jesus change lives. Too often, we see a need and wait for the vicar or someone on staff to take responsibility. But that’s not the way church works.
Each of us has been given skills, abilities and opportunities to serve. In Timothy’s church, for example, the women ran a widows ministry (1 Timothy 5:16), and elders directed church affairs while others were devoted just to teaching and preaching (1 Timothy 5:17).
In the Bible, church is always a reference to people, not a place. The church is a body of believers that live out the Gospel in their words and actions. The church is at its best when people inside the building take Jesus’ message outside the building and serve those they meet.
"We are the church, when we are at home and when we are together. Who we are and how we are living should flow seamlessly between those worlds without friction or tension. What we do in one place, we should be able to just as freely do in another place and our faith should reach beyond the walls of church into the everyday life we live."