“Where do you go to church?” That’s a common question among Christians. Or maybe, “Do you go to church?” Another common question.
Before answering either question, it might be informative to know what the word ‘church’ means. We commonly think of church as a building. It might be an old wooden building out in the country. It might be a huge structure covering several city block. It could have a steeple with bells that ring periodically. More recently, it might be all or part of a shopping center.
The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary offers several definitions for ‘church’ as follows:
1. The entire body of those who are saved by their relation to Christ.
2. A particular Christian denomination.
3. The aggregate of all the ecclesiastical communions professing faith in Christ.
4. A single organized Christian group.
5. A building designated for Christian worship.
The original Greek word for the church was ekklesia, which Strong’s Concordance defines as an assembly, a (religious) congregation. It further defines it as the whole body of Christian believers.
Although Unger does include a building as a possible interpretation of the word ‘church,’ it’s his last choice, and there are more definitions relating to people than to buildings. It’s a convenient term we use to designate a meeting place or a certain group of people, but its original use in the New Testament referred to the body of Christ—the entire body of born-again Christians saved through their faith in Jesus.
Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This takes the body of Christ down to any group of two or more Christians gathered in His name. If you are a Christian and you and I meet for coffee and discuss spiritual matters, we’re having church. Jesus meets with us, no matter where the meeting takes place.
The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter ten not to forsake our assembling together, but to encourage one another. That says nothing about going to a certain building or listening to a sermon—it says to assemble. As we saw above, Jesus considers it assembling if as many as two or three of us gather in His name.
As Christians, we need the fellowship of other Christians to keep our own faith strong, to help one another in whatever ways are needed, to broaden our knowledge and deepen our understanding of His word—we could make a long list of reasons to meet, but nowhere in that list would it be necessary to include the location of a building or the name of a group.
All this being said, let me emphasize that I am not against the formation of local bodies. Nor am I against their finding a physical meeting place. I am a part of a local body that meets in a building built for that purpose. There is a sign outside with the name of our body on it.
If you are part of such a body and are being fed by your membership there, good for you. I have no quarrel with that. My objection arises when we tell people they have to belong to a “church,” meaning a particular local group—or when we begin elevating the importance of our group rather than lifting up the name of Jesus. Or when we want our building to be bigger or fancier than yours. Or when a pastor comes to think he is more important than his flock.
Do I go to church? Yes. Where do I go to church? I’m part of a wonderful Sunday School class, and I meet every Wednesday with a fellow Christian for breakfast. In both of those meetings, I always ask God to steer our conversation where He would have it go and to open our ears to hear what He would have us to hear. I have mini-church services with waitresses, my mother’s caregivers, and others God puts in my path. Whenever two or us gather in His name, I consider it church.
What does church mean to you?
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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I like all that you had to say, David. As you well know I am and will always be with you as a part and parcel of Christ’s Church wherever we meet. I reiterate what you have said, “Wherever two or more are, I’ll be…………..!”
Well said, David. Confusion enters in when we sometimes misapply #1 and/or #3. For instance, one might say “the church is not as influential in society as it used to be.”‘ meaning #3 is losing its power. But I don’t believe the statement is true as applied to #1. Incidentally, I had the privilege of attending SS. taught by Dr. Unger at Scofield Memorial Church many years ago. Eventually he had to give up the class to start work on his bible dictionary. Blessings D.S
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Thanks, Don. I always appreciate anything you have to say.
Although I grew up thinking that church was a building in which people met to practice Christianity, I now personally believe that fellowshipping with Christians anywhere to honor Jesus qualifies for church.
You’ve hit the nail on the head, Sharon.
Amen! Love, Jane
That is quite the interesting topic, David. I was raised in a very strict religion where we HAD to go to church on Sunday and every Tuesday and Thursday night. No excuses. No sick days. I grew to hate going to church. Especially when I was in high school because I often had several hours of homework that never got done because he HAD to go to church. Really?
As a adult, I’ve come to appreciate that “going to church,” (for me) means, being aware of God’s presence in and around us every day, everywhere. If I conduct myself like I do when I’m physically at church – the building – then I’m doing it right. I don’t always need to enter the building to experience “church,” or God’s smile. He’s everywhere and he sees what I do so he knows if I sometimes skip the actual process of driving to a building, that doesn’t mean I’ve missed church.
Thanks for the thoughtful post.
w/a Jansen Schmidt
Your experience as a child, Patricia, is part of why I write about this subject in my blogs and my book Christianity 101. I think we damage a lot of kids by treating them this way.
We always refer to our church as being the people in it. We are all like family. I believe that the best thing I have ever done was walk through that door one Sunday. I am truly at home, at peace, and hopefully i am a better person. The “church” is my family.
Glad to hear it, Carole. If you’re being fed there, that’s wonderful.