Many of us associate the word church with a building, but the original meaning was a group of believers. While a church building may be old, beautiful, a remembrance, or a masterpiece of creativity, it is an empty shell without the congregation. A true church is the sum of its members, whether they meet in a movie theatre, coffee shop, or simple home. Perhaps some of the strongest churches have met in forests, on mountains, even in cellars, during times of persecution (and still do in some parts of the world.)
A recent blog post set me thinking about churches. Probably the most diabolically clever move the enemy ever made was to make Christianity acceptable, safe. The ancient “church”, heartily relieved to no longer be hounded and persecuted, settled down to work in harmony with the prevailing worldly systems of its day. Sure, it had its revolutionaries, St. Francis, Luther, etc. But even Luther compromised when he saw where the truth of the scriptures was leading – the overthrow of the status quo. He sold out his followers and thousands died.
In every generation, and scattered throughout denominations one finds true Christians, always a minority. The proportion of these individuals in a church tends to decide how dead (going through the motions) or alive it is. A spirit filled pastor can sometimes bring a church to life, but the choice rests always on the congregation. It is not always shown by large numbers (think Noah and Jeremiah). In my experience small, personal churches tend to be more on fire, as they grow so do the problems. If you build something successful someone is sure to either try to destroy it or take it over – this happens!
The church I frequently attend is small, personal, accepting. They have all types and ages in their congregation, wealthy and privileged, to poor single mums from the counsel estate, 90 year olds to tiny tots (even teenagers). The pastors are sincere and loving. Testimonies, prophecy and prayer abound and are freely shared among the congregation both after and often during the service. It’s easy to see the love of Christ abounding. I notice how no one minds when a woman sings off key and two beats behind on every song, when several get up to help the one in a wheelchair, when someone breaks down in tears and the person next to them (not in any church position) puts an arm around them, when I see the free lunches offered to any that come (minus a sermon) and note the guy with a tattooed face I’d avoided sitting among them, greeted with a smile. While perhaps not as radical as my own beliefs (it still operates in conjunction with the “system”) I’d say it is an alive and growing church in the best meaning of the word.