What is the Church?

A little over 10 years ago I had the opportunity to sit under Jurgen Moltmann for a few days of lecture. It was an amazing experience and one for which I am ever so thankful. So much of what he spoke about during those lectures shapes how I understand Jesus, the church, life, and ministry. Of course, continuing to read his works helps also. A few months ago I was reminded of the lectures and I tweeted about one of the statements that he made that really hit me.

Here’s the tweet:

It is such a small thing, asking ‘how do we do church?” versus asking “what is the church” but I think it has tremendous consequences. “How do we do church?” is all about the pragmatics of church and never really addresses or considers whether or not certain actions, programs, buildings, etc., etc. actually should be a part of the church.

“What is the church?” is about mission. “How do we do church? is about efficiency.

“What is the church?” leads us to ask if what we do actually fits into the core of who we are. Who Jesus has declared His church to be.

“How do we do church?” leads us to ask “does it work?” This isn’t a bad question, it just isn’t one of the most important questions.

After His testing in the wilderness, Jesus began His public ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah. Luke records the following:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
       because he has anointed me
       to proclaim good news to the poor.
       He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
      to set the oppressed free,
19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-20)

When Jesus began His ministry He described His good news, His gospel, as being for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. He didn’t enter the world just the set the captives free but the freedom of captives is the natural occurrence of receiving His good news.

In my opinion the danger with “how do we do church?” being the primary question we ask is that it can lead to some incredibly unChristlike actions being allowed and encouraged in the name of “doing” church better. These actions may be organizationally efficent. They may bring people in. They simply don’t represent Jesus.

His ministry began with a proclamation that declared a change in the lives of those who were viewed as weak by those in power. I am fairly sure that His church should follow His example.

It is who we are.

Or at least who we are supposed to be.

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