Firstly it is worth noting that in the New Testament, the word ‘church’ (the Greek ‘ekklēsia‘) always relates to a group of people, not a building or an institution. So when we ask “what is ‘Church’ for?”, we are asking a very different question when referring to the meaning of the word as opposed to ‘The Church’ as an institution or a particular building.
Secondly, the ‘Church’ is also referred to as the ‘body of Christ’ because of verses like 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
and 1 Corinthians 12:27
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Christ was God’s medium for revealing himself to the world in human form, in a language we would understand. Christ showed us what God is like. God’s being and his message were perfectly united in Christ.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
The life Christ lived and the words he spoke revealed not just the word of God but the very being of God.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3)
If God’s chosen medium was Christ, and the church is the body of Christ then the church is God’s chosen medium for God’s ongoing revelation to the world; the church exists to embody and proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom.
The message of the gospel is profoundly shaped by the way the church lives in the world and by the way each individual church member lives within their world context.
The “People of God” – God’s chosen people was expanded from just being Israel to include all believers. And while this ‘chosen people’ is ‘set apart’ from the world (called to be distinctive), it exists for the explicit purpose of blessing the world as a light to the nations, just as the Israelites were supposed to be.
You, personally and we, collectively as the ‘body of Christ’ in it’s wider context are the best vehicle that God has for advancing his Kingdom today. Conversely, you could be the best medium for shattering everything God is trying to do. If people don’t see Christ living in and through you, yet you claim to be a follower of him, your life shouts louder than your claims and it speaks in direct opposition to the message God has for the world.
Nearly everywhere in the New Testament where Paul writes ‘You’, the word in the Greek is in its plural form. But, partly because of the individualistic bias of the print age or ‘modern age’ and the lack of a plural ‘you’ in modern English, we interpret most of these things individually, personally.
Remember though, Paul was writing to churches, not individuals.
For example, lets quickly have a look at 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Every time Paul writes ‘you’ he speaks plurally, but when he writes ‘body, it is singular. He speaks to a corporate group about their single body. He is concerned about a community’s health and purity (whilst clearly, the individual purity also matters).
So, what does this passage call our churches and our community to become? If we are reading through a corporate lens, we begin to see scriptures’ images as community rather than personal and we can develop a more complete understanding of the true essence of the church and have some clarity on God’s chosen medium.
The scriptural vision of the church is one in which individuals exist for the sake of the community and the community exists for Gods mission in the world. God chose the church, in all its various and disparate, flawed and beautiful ways not individual Christians as the medium for his ongoing mission.
We are the medium of God’s message, individually, but more importantly, corporately. How this looks in reality will vary from congregation to congregation but the experience within our churches should be one of a foretaste of Gods kingdom as we hold faithfully to God’s agenda and try to live his message.
We are the medium and the message.
So what is ‘church’ for?
The tradition of a group of Jesus followers gathering together to become a ‘Church’ follows along the logic that you can’t show God’s love on your own.
Therefore, the collection of disciples and the activities they engage in exist to excite you, to propel you, to inspire you, to motivate you, equip you, brief you, train you, pray for you, support you, laugh with you, cry with you, learn from you, teach you, learn with you, journey with you as you get involved in individual acts of worship in your whole life as an individual follower of Jesus.
‘The Church’ is for the members, for the local community, for your own local community and for anyone who may meet part of it. Church is what you do, as a group of Jesus’ disciples, not a building or an institution. Church is not confined to a building or event, it continues throughout your life, ‘church’ should be something you are, something you do.
‘The Church’ exists for the explicit purpose of blessing the world, by embodying and proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom – a world redeemed and restored, a world refreshed and renewed.
God coming to live with humans in an endless perfect, flawless harmony.
God and humans in intentional, passionate, everlasting intimacy.