What is a church? This seems like a simple enough question – a dictionary definition says it is a building used for public Christian worship. This is the traditional church on the corner concept. For most people, the concept of what a church is would be drawn from the culture they experienced growing up. For all of us our childhood experience as well as media and pop culture play into the formation of our impressions. A little more obscure, but a powerful influence would be what people want the church to provide for them, a fulfillment of emotional needs. The sense of belonging to a group or community, a family friendly setting with programs to meet the needs of the family members.
As society as a whole becomes more secular, the whole concept of “Church” continues to expand in fulfilling social needs in non-traditional ways. We have arrived at a point where the concept of church needs not have any bearing on the existence of God. A group by the name of Sunday Assembly is promoting atheist churches and the idea is catching on worldwide. They describe their model as being like an Evangelical Christian church but without God. It appears they appeal to a growing group of people who have no religious affiliation and are turned off traditional religious organizations. People who want to belong without having to believe. They actively promote no doctrine, no deity, independence, radical inclusiveness and not telling people how to live.
See more at: The church with no God in America’s Bible Belt
Before we dismiss these atheist churches as irrelevant we might want to think about our own view of what a church is. Is it possible that recent events within God’s church have had an effect on how we view the role of the church? Are we skeptically independent of traditional understanding of what the church is because of many organizations claiming to be the church?
The facts are clear. The Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone and is like a building fitly framed together which grows unto an holy temple in the Lord and is a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22). The church is a spiritual entity, not an organization, building or social club. Its purpose is to prepare a body of people for rulership with and under Jesus Christ when He establishes the kingdom of God over the earth. Christ as the Head will “cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27). The bottom line of this is that as a part of the body we each have a responsibility to contribute to the overall spiritual condition of the church. Our personal spiritual growth is a vital part of the strength and well-being of the church. We must be contributors to the whole. (Ephesians 4:16).
All around us the concept of church is one of what it provides for me. One of the founders of the atheist church said, “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping others – and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships.” The Sunday Assembly states that it, “is a global network of people who want to make the most of this one life we know we have. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential.” As one adherent stated, “The idea is why not steal all the good bits about church – the music, the fellowship, the community work – and lose the God stuff.” Members who understand what the church is will want to embrace the “God stuff” because without it, church is an empty , selfish pursuit – a social club fulfilling our emotional needs. ‘A club that can easily be changed if we find another “church” that fulfills our wants and desires better.
The Church of God is a living, dynamic spiritual organism. Those called to the Church contribute to that organism by their overcoming and development of Godly character. They dedicate their lives to growing, “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Spiritual growth comes at a price as it is hard work. But that hard work is what will fulfill our full potential – to be a son in the God family. That is what a church is.
By Brian Orchard