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.