Summary: A topical message. How we define church will determine what we cherish and what we are able to let go. The right definition will free us; the wrong definition will enslave us. Aimed at churches who exist to "keep the doors open."
Do you remember this finger play?
Here’s the Church,
Here’s the steeple,
Open the doors
to see all the people
In years gone by, this finger play was a tool that teachers used to teach children the importance of attending church? I certainly believe that it holds value for this reason. But as I have matured, I think the finger play is a bit simplistic. I am not so sure it quite hits the mark. Why am I saying this? Because I think it gives the wrong impression of what the church is.
We continue our series of messages, From Castle to Community. But in order to make this move from castle to community, we have to properly define what the church is. So how do we define “church”?
Is the church the building and structure? Does the church consist of walls, and pews, and pulpits, and communion tables? Is that the church? Is the church God’s house? Do we treat the building with reverent awe because God lives here? Is the church the music? “My church is contemporary. We have a band and sing praise choruses.” “My church is traditional. We sing hymns to an organ.”
Is the church the traditions we remember? Is it the ministries and programs we offer?
Is it the people? What is the church?
How we answer this question will determine at the core what or who we are.. How we answer this question will determine how we use our resources, time, and money. It will determine what activities we offer and our involvement in these activities. It will be seen in the things we cherish and the things we can live without.
And how we answer the question will affect how those standing on the outside will view those who are sitting on the inside. Outsiders and insiders. Our church is not immune to it. And I believe that there are some people here in this auditorium right now who feel like you are camped right in the middle of that gap; you don’t know where you belong. I may even be that have been burned by past church experiences -- like touching a hot stove, you are reluctant to touch it again. You haven’t decided if church is right for you. You haven’t decided if THIS church is right for you? You want to know, “What is this church all about anyway?” If’ that you, I want to invite YOU to JOIN us in the conversation as we explore the how Scripture defines “Church.”
I want to start with Acts 17:22.
In this passage....
Paul has reached the city of Athens, Greece on a missionary journey. And as he walks around the city, he sees it is full of pagan idols. He is greatly disturbed by this so he enters the market place and begins to debate philosophy with those who are there. This would have been an accepted practice of the day. Philosophy was widely discussed in Greece.
However, Paul’s discussions spark public debate in the marketplace. In order to solve the conflict before trouble starts, Paul is dragged before the people of the city into their public meeting place. It was called the Areopagus. And Paul seizes the opportunity to share with them his faith.
Acts 17:22-23a (NIV)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD…
These people had idols set up for every god imaginable. The Greek pantheon included dozens of gods, goddesses, and even demigods. There were so many gods that apparently the Athenians feared they might have missed one. Rather than incurring the wrath of a missed god, they set up an idol to him as well. It was an altar to any unknown god.
Paul latches on to this and he says,
Acts 17:23b-25 (NIV)
23 …Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
God does not dwell in temples built by hands. Underline that statement in vs 24. It is vital to our discussion.
Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t this building built by human hands? I think some of your hands participated in the construction. Some of you remember the day the doors were opened and the day the first worship service was held here. But if Paul is correct in his message to the people in Athens, we have to assume that the