What is Church?

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Mary, one of our members, has gone home to be with the Lord at the ripe old age of 90 and tomorrow I’ll have the privelege of conducting her funeral service. I loved visiting Mary. There are parts to the Pastor’s job that make you want to throw yourself to hungry lions just after you’ve gouged out your own eyes, but visiting older saints is not one of them. I can tell you that visiting Mary was not one of them either. Often I arrived at her house feeling like the world was perched on my little shoulders and 45 minutes of fellowship later and a spiritual refreshment had come.

With this in mind I want to make a startling admission that may diminish my street cred to an all new low. Here we go. Brace yourself. I really love older people! There, I said it! More than that, God loves them too. The average new hippy church planter may not be too happy with me there because all he usually cares about is 25 year old Gary and Susan the law undergraduate. He wants energy and ‘life’ and guitair playing skills and someone who will pull half of the campus out of their beds on Sunday mornings. Don’t get me wrong here. I like Gary and Susan too. Thriving churches need lots of Gary’s and Susan’s. And I especially like guitars. It’s just that, here goes the street cred again, I also liked Mary. More than that I’m convinced that healthy churches will have all 3 living in unity as the Spirit performs His ‘one body’ miracle from Ephesians 4.

Why is it that we are moving away in the west from this Biblical model of church? And where are the one generational churches getting their blueprint from? Just recently on Sunday’s we’ve been working our way through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and thinking through what he was on about when he spoke about ‘the unity of the Spirit’ (Eph 4v3). It is such a striking phrase. Often we think that unity is man made. It’s not! We think that we achieve unity when the Pastor keeps a lid on all of the awkward personality types that have gathered in the church, even kicking them out occasionally when they get particularly cantankerous. It’s not. And then sometimes we think that unity involves not taking risks, and maintaining the status quo. Not rocking the boat so to speak. Well again that might KEEP unity in church but is it ESTABLISHED this way? Again, it’s not; and Paul makes this clear. He says to us that we are to make every effort to keep the unity OF THE SPIRIT. In other words, when Paul thinks of Christians gathering from all sorts of backgrounds, be they 25 year old Gary or 90 year old Mary, he is clear that this is a miracle that the Spirit Himself has brought to pass. It is something that’s precious because it is divinely achieved. All ages and personalities and nationalities are united at the cross. All are joined in their worship of Christ. All need the same forgiveness. All are train wrecks without grace. All are citizens (presently) in the heavenly realms. This is the unity that we make every effort to keep. It’s not that we establish it but rather that He does, and our role in the church is to maintain it at all costs.

I remember hearing a Pastor saying once to younger Pastors that if the whole of the service on Sunday was always to their taste then something somewhere had gone wrong. I’ll confess to being puzzled when I first heard that but I think what he was saying was something like this; if you are looking for a place where the services and songs and music and style are always in line with what YOU imagine church to be, then you are not making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. You are catering for yourself. You are expecting everyone else to give way to yourself. Actually, to be blunt about it – you’re thinking about yourself. I felt deeply uncomfortable when that first made sense to me. I’m thankful that I serve in a church where we seem to have grapsed the oneness of our body. We’re not all about the youth and being packed out with students, and nor are we all about the aged with no place for the students. We’re all about both. And long may it continue. It’s a delicate balance at times but it’s Biblical. It’s right!

All of us will miss Mary. Few make it to 90 and remain quite as content as she did. She stayed the course and loved the Lord, even worshiping in church the Sunday before she died. One day we will be united again, only this time it will be at the throne.

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