In the Apostles' Creed we confess that we believe in "the holy catholic church". But what is the Church anyway?
According to the New Testament, the Church is a group of people called out by God. That is what the Greek word "ecclesia" means as it is used in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere.
The Church is the Church of God. It is a Church belonging to the Lord. In fact, we get our English word for "church" from another Greek word, "kuriake," which simply means "belonging to the Lord". If it is true that the Church belongs to the Lord then we need to be careful how we speak about her.
Notice also that the Church is one. We confess belief in the Church, not in churches. The Church is built on one foundation: Jesus Christ.
We also see in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere that the Church is not somewhere we go; rather it is something we are part of, something we, who are believers in Jesus, simply are. The Church is not a building, but a people. The Church is a people called out of the world by the Lord, that is, called to be in the world but not of it. We are a people called to be separate, distinctive, set apart for the purpose of bearing witness to Jesus so that even more people might believe in him. If we are not fulfilling or even seeking to fulfil the Great Commission that Jesus gave to us in Matthew 28, then are we even the Church?
The city of Long Beach, California, looks upon the Queen Mary, docked near the oceanfront, as a floating white elephant. Since 1967, when the city bought the ship from Cunard, sixty-three million dollars or more has been spent on its conversion into a tourist spot with a museum, shops, restaurants, and hotel. Over the years, voices have called for the doughty old Cunarder to be scrapped. One wonders: what purpose does the Queen Mary really serve when it can no longer sail the seven seas?
A similar question can be posed regarding the Church: what purpose does the Church really serve if we are not serving the purpose Jesus originally gave us? Are we destined to become, like the Queen Mary, just a museum, or a hotel for people who have no where better to stay, nothing better to do with their time? I believe that the Church has been called to sail the world and, like Noah's Ark, rescue people from certain destruction.
Someone has drawn the following contrasts between the live church and the dead church:
Live churches are constantly changing.
Dead churches don't have to.
Live churches have lots of noisy kids.
Dead churches are fairly quiet.
Live churches expenses always exceed their income.
Dead churches take in more than they ever dreamed of spending.
Live churches are constantly improving for the future.
Dead churches worship their past.
Live churches move out in faith.
Dead churches operate totally by human sight.
Live churches focus on people.
Dead churches focus on programs.
Live churches dream great dreams of God.
Dead churches relive nightmares.
Live churches don't have "can't" in their dictionary.
Dead churches have nothing but "can't".
Live churches evangelize.
Dead churches fossilize.
I wonder: to which kind of church do we belong? And what can we do to become more of the Church Jesus created us and redeemed us to be?