Repentance

We Are Broken in Our Identity

We are broken in the area of our identity. We talk about going to church and ask what time church starts as if church is a location or is something we do. Maybe we are influenced by the name we have been stuck with for 500 years.

The word church implies a place. There may be differences of opinion about the etymology of the word church, but whatever the word origin it certainly means a place.  Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London, spelled out 15 rules for translation and one of those rules was that the word church would be retained instead of the word congregation. So, we have been stuck with a name that in some subtle way influences our identity.

There is a tradition among some Hindi people in India that may give insight on the influence of a name. In some of the people groups in India the third daughter in a family is named Nakusha. That might have a nice sound in English but in Hindi Nakusha means unwanted.

No matter how talented, how intelligent or how genial this girl is she still is identified as “Unwanted”. She cannot say her name without being reminded that her parents were hoping for a boy. She lives with an identity shaped by her name.

Fortunately, an organization within that state of India has begun a renaming ceremony. All the Nakushas are invited to attend and legally change their names. This is a first step towards changing their identity.

It is probably too late in the game for us to change the name we have been carrying since the first English translations but we, those who are called to lead, can be more precise in the use of the word. Maybe we can announce that the church will come together on Sunday to worship.

Although there is a great tradition in the CGGC to call the building the bethel it is easy to lapse into calling the building the church. When those who align themselves the Churches of God form a community they usually want a place to meet regularly and when they take ownership of that building they tend to identity themselves by that building.

When, for one reason or another, they cannot meet in that building they seem to lose their identity. That is a shame because the Bible is clear that we are the church. It doesn’t matter where the church meets.  Romans 16:5 Greet also the church in their house and Col. 4: 16 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

This is a personal issue with me because I am ministering now to a church that is struggling to keep the building. I have tried to remind them that they are the Church of God no matter where they meet and losing a building, as painful as it may be, does not affect their identity in Christ. Time will tell what happens to this building and those who call it home.

To be clear, those who follow Christ do assemble regularly.  We may individually be the “church”, but it is expected that we will meet together.  En ekklesia is the term Paul uses to describe the times when the people of God gather corporately for worship. This is usually translated “when you come together as the church”.  Corporate worship is one characteristic of those who commit to follow Christ.

I have no problem with buildings. A building provides an official address. A building is convenient for package deliveries and for stability but we need to repent of any notion that our identity is shaped by a building or that we are the church only when that building is open. We also need to repent of any notion that building a building will guarantee a promotion to a bigger building some where else.

Father, we repent of any notion, implied or otherwise, that we are identified by a building or an address. Free us from any thought that our success is measured by bricks and mortar. We also repent of any sense that buildings are a sign of the success of our ministry. Help us remember that it is required of stewards that we be found faithful.

7 thoughts on “We Are Broken in Our Identity

  1. Lew, thanks for this post.

    I’ve been all in on this for a long time now, but I still need to repent of how I talk about it. I strive to speak of gatherings rather than church, but so often I do say, ‘I’m going over to the church,’ or similar.

    If we’re going to repent of this, we need an alternative.

    Some Anabaptists call it a meetinghouse. I like that. That’s what it is – not the church but a place the church can and often does gather. Of course we think of meetings to be more like business meetings, so that word has some particular connotations as well.

    Since we’re on this, even though it has a long history that goes back to our first building, the ‘Union Bethel,’ I think we might consider repenting of the word Bethel as an appropriate term for a building we gather in, or actual part of the name of the church in my own case.

    Bethel means ‘house of God.’ In what way is the building or ‘the bethel’ the house of God? Does God dwell there in some special way? No, of course not.

    Truthfully, I think that much of Christian history has carried over temple thinking. If we are thinking in New Testament language, we are the temple (the people). One of the things we have in many churches is something we call ‘an alter.’ The majority of our churches probably have a room we call ‘the sanctuary’ that has additional rules and expectations around.

    If we’re going to repent, let’s really repent. Let’s think through these things and actually align ourselves with New Testament faith and practice.

    That’s one of the core things we are supposed to be about. And when it comes to that, we are only scratching the surface of returning to our identity.

    Thanks Lew!

    1. Dan, I just noticed the tag by which this post will be categorized, Church Buildings. I guess that will help people find this post and your comment but it seems kind of ironic.
      In response to the word the Anabaptists use “the meeting house” I can add that in France there are two terms that emphasize something similar. The French expression for the time when the Christians gather is called “le culte”. This is translated worship. So it does not refer to a building but what happens when the Church gathers. The gathering of the Christians together is called “l’assemble” which as can guess means the assembly. That is not to say that Christians in France never talking about going to Church but the terms generally speak to a time when the group of Christians gets together.
      I think this is in line with the expressions Paul used of the church gathered. Individually we are the church but it is clear that the Church had a corporate identity. The Greek expression “en ekklesia” and the Greek words “sunerchomai” and “sunago” all speak of the corporate Church.
      (Someone has talked about the Church gathered and the Church scattered as two dimensions of the church.)
      What we can say from the use of these three ideas from the Greek is that the Church met regularly, often in a home. the Church met for worship, 1 Cor. 14 and the Lord’s Table 1 Cor. 11 (sunerchomai). As the church was meeting it exercised discipline as necessary (1 Cor. 5:4, sunago).
      Did the Church gather in a place that was a designated meeting place? Good question but each person seems to have known where the church met so they would be at the right place at the right time and the right time was probably Sunday evening but that is a discussion for another time.
      Another discussion for later would be the idea of a sacred space. I’m still working on a response to that.

      1. I’m especially curious what others think about the idea of a ‘bethel.’ Is it appropriate to call a building ‘God’s house?’

        Is it an improper carrying over of the idea of the old covenant temple into the new?

        Or not?

        1. I am still thinking about the larger issue implied by the designation “Bethel”. That is the idea of sacred places. If by that we mean a place where God is known then I have a sacred place. There is a place I go to read, pray and think and it has become sacred to me because God has met me there. There is no building.
          If we mean a place dedicated to the glory of God and a place where God is worshiped then I can see the importance of that also.
          One of the things our society is missing is a sense of the sacred and if putting up a building does that then it may be important but I think this idea deserves a lot more discussion and maybe we can start that discussion here.

      2. Lew, I am grateful and repentant in light of your post. I do still say, “I am going up to the church” when I should say something like “I am going to the place where the church meets”. Some would call it nitpicking. But words have meaning and reveal attitudes. “Out of the mouth the heart speaks” (Matthew 15:18). I know in my heart that the church is people, but is it clearly communicated with the words I use? Not always.

        We need words to express what we mean when we are going to the place of meeting and most use the word “church”, but what is the potential cost of doing so? As you so rightly point out, we can miss that God is in and with us. We can begin to think that God is confined to a physical “house” and really has no place in “real” life. We even call a happening there a worship “service”. Certainly, it is service, but our service should also extend to our neighbors and communities.

        It is hard to find a balance in language. When referring to our meeting place, “the place where the church meets” is cumbersome in comparison to “the church”. I am not so certain God is as concerned with specific words as he is with the attitude behind them. The problem is, many times, such attitudes are only discernable by God and the speaker. Your post challenges every reader to evaluate themselves in their own secret places and challenges all, including myself, to repent and realign our attitudes with godly principles. It has worked that way for me and I pray it will for many others.

  2. I think the most recent prayer composed and sent by Candice Shoemaker is appropriate here:

    “Spirit of God, we long for an outbreak of your work among us. We know that you always work IN your church before ministering THROUGH us. Help us to lay aside idols of edifice and traditions so that Jesus’ new life can be birthed in us for the sake of the Gospel.”

    Amen!

    1. I have to say Amen to that prayer. I was reading Ephesians 3 this morning and praying through it as it occurred to me that the most important building is the one God is preparing us to be–the dwelling place of God. This applies to both the individual and the body gathered. I found Paul’s prayer in Eph 3:14 and following very powerful. We must be more concerned with God’s building project in us than the building we may gather in.

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