I guess after a couple of decades as a church professional it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. It’s become one of my personal pet peeves and it always blows me away how my colleagues manage to let their language betray them.
Church isn’t a building.
Church isn’t a meeting.
Church isn’t a decision-making body.
Church isn’t a destination.
and Church isn’t something we do.
Church is a particular people and, as such, you can’t go to church.
Splitting hairs? Perhaps, but hear me out.
Somewhere in our ancient history, the understanding of church shifted so radically that we’ve never recovered.
If you search the Gospels, you’ll find that Jesus only mentions the word church in two passages.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus declares that he’ll build the church and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it. I will ever be indebted to Neil Cole who first pointed out to me that gates aren’t offensive weapons. Jesus isn’t suggesting that the church create fortresses to ward off the attacks of evil…he is making, literally, a battle cry that the church has been created to be on the offensive. We’re to assail the gates of evil – gates that don’t stand a chance against us – and launch rescue missions for those imprisoned by darkness. Matthew 16:18 gives us the church’s mission.
The second time Jesus mentions the church, he defines it. In Matthew 18:15-20 he spells out the remedy for broken relationships between his disciples. In the ensuing instructions Jesus defines about who we are: two or three (and presumably more) who are gathered in his name.
Now, before we conclude that this is what we’re doing on Sunday mornings at 11:00, let’s go a step further in our exploration.
It has always fascinated me at how little guidance the New Testament gives us for how to “do” and to “be” church. For instance, where are the directions for how to do baptisms? Before you answer that based on your church’s tradition, let me remind you that there are millions of Christian scholars who have turned to the same Bible and the same passages your tradition has and who have come up with a different answer than yours. Sprinkling or dunking? “Living” water or baptismal pool? In the company of the worshipping body or private ceremony? The Bible doesn’t seem to be real specific on the matter.
Or take the Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist. Where are the instructions? Wine or grape juice? Unleavened bread or over-processed communion Chiclets? Weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Daily?
You get the drift. But here’s the real dilemma. As different as all the congregations are across our land, there’s a real similarity from one to another. It’s as if someone sat down and wrote a formula, a plan, a model for what “church” is supposed to look like. There ‘s a leader or leaders who “lead.” They do the reading. They do the preaching. They do the music. They collect the offering. Etc. Then there’s a congregation. They sing with the worship leader/s. They put money in the offering baskets. But mostly…they watch while the “up-fronters” do what the up-fronters do.
Does that sound at all vaguely familiar? Sure it does. It sounds just like an updated version of the Old Testament model of worship. The priests, the Levites, the Korahites, and other up-fronters led the worship. They did the preaching. They did the worship leading. They collected the offerings. They handled the sacrifices. And the congregation, by-and-large, watched.
Now, don’t hear me saying there’s a thing wrong with the model of worship. That’s not my point. Whenever you gather the church together for a regular event, traditions will be born and rituals will become normative. It’s just the way it is.
However, the Old Testament model of “doing” church isn’t the New Testament model. Why? Because there is no New Testament model for “doing” church. Oh sure, what we call the “house church” is a reflection of what the early disciples did when they got together, but if the house church was supposed to be a model for Jesus’ church, don’t you think we’d have received detailed instructions? Let’s face it, there’s very little left up to the imagination in the Old Testament model…right down to the size of the building and the color of the walls.
No, there is no New Testament approved model for doing church. Hence our adoption of the term Carte Blanche Church. Carte Blanche literally means Blank Page. And that’s what God has given us in terms of what the model of doing church is “supposed” to be like. God gave us a Blank Page to write on. Yes, we’re told to go make disciples. To baptize. To teach. To take up offerings to give to the poor. To share in communion. But we’re told precious little else about “how” to do church.
But we are told to be the church. You and me together. Two or three getting together to do…
Well, that’s the point of Carte Blanche Church. To explore the options, the models, the variety, and the reality of what being the church together looks like.
God gave us a blank page. What are you going to write on it?