What is “Church”?

Posted by Rev. Dr. Patrick Duggan on Wednesday May 18, 2016 Under Pastor's Corner

One Easter, I looked up “church” on Google and found over 239 million results.  Because computers and smartphones are more sophisticated now than ever, the results from a Google search are both location- and device-specific.  From my home office desktop, the first page of my search resulted in a list of nearby churches (or at least those churches that know how to optimize their websites. Nine pages in, my church was nowhere to be found).  On my phone, our church was the third “hit” on the list of results.  It really bothered me to see the big Baptist church in the neighborhood at the top of the list (even though that Baptist pastor is a friend of mine).   Forty six feet from where I’m standing, why isn’t our church at the top?

What was more interesting about my search for “church” was that regardless of the device, every search yielded the following result somewhere in the top ten:  “a church building, often simply called a church, is a building used for religious activities, particularly worship…”  Those words were accompanied by a picture of an all-white, New England-style chapel.

You would think that result would make me happy. As much as I love church buildings however, my little unscientific research project underscored how far we have strayed from what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 “…upon this rock I will build my ekklēsia.”  Certainly, Jesus was not talking about a building. And I doubt that he had in mind the twisted meanings of “church” today.

People have been abused by “church”, welcomed by “church”, oppressed by “church”, affirmed by “church”, frustrated by “church”, embraced, rejected, loved, neglected, saved or maligned by “church”.   The “church” at once blesses marriage between any two people, and also says that there can only be marriage between man and woman. The church condones violence, condemns violence, commits violence and advocates for peace. No wonder so many people claim to be ‘spiritual but not religious’, or ‘Christians who don’t believe in organized religion’. Why would anyone want to associate with folks who can’t figure out who the hell they are?

To meet the needs of this generation, spaces and places that facilitate ministry must be created from  a renewed understanding of “church” that is not building-centered.  In the spirit of sankofa, the church must go back so that we may go forward.  No, not back to ‘old-time religion’ and antiquated ways, but back to the vision of the beloved community that Jesus called forth in his first century conversation with Peter.  “Church” is NOT a building.  “Church” is God’s people, sharing the Good News of Jesus with all of humanity, until all creation is overcome with God’s love.  That is the “church” that the spiritually hungry are searching for.

Worship can no longer be what we do.  Worship must be who we are.  Let the church say, “Amen”.


Greetings friends!  This is the first post on our church blog.  Thank you for your interest in CCSH.  We welcome your thoughts and comments.

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