Part 2: The Church
By Brooke Stacia DeMott
The panoramic of both real experiences and caricatures associated with the term ‘church’ in American culture are boundless. I have had the fortunate opportunity to experience a wide range of denominationally specific services and cultures and I can tell you truly, there is no end to the peculiarities of preferential worship styles.
As a young woman entering Christianity without a religious framework, I was a blank canvas- which caused me to make a lot of assumptions that, upon reflection, handicapped me in the short term but really benefited me in the long run.
Similar to green workforce recruit- often preferred by employers as those without bad habits to unlearn- I had no real expectations of ‘church’ other than what was given to be by the Bible.
My entrance into a faith in Christ was based solely on a dawning awareness that sin was, in fact, real; that sin was ruining my life; and that the Bible offered an explanation for it’s origin, it’s persistence, and it’s remedy. I was not solicited by an evangelist and cajoled into faith; I fell to my knees in a dark garage one night, alone, with a tear-stained Gospel of Matthew and a shattered life that I begged God to restore in exchange for my allegiance. And He did not disappoint.
From that moment on, I sought out a greater connection and understanding of who God is through the fellowship of church, under the naïve impression that there were three immutable truths to be found in a fellowship: 1.) All churches hold the Bible up as their sole and highest authority for truth. 2.) All churches, therefore, basically believe and teach the same thing. 3.) Christians within these bodies make every constant, earnest effort to obey God in all things and because of this, the unity of fellowship is easily maintained.
After struggling for nearly a decade in the first church my husband and I attended, fighting to reconcile those preconceptions with the reality that it simply did not exist in this fellowship, we had no choice but to make our exit and seek out the answer to the question: What, exactly, is God’s definition of and purpose for ‘the church’?
The word ‘church’ comes from the Greek word ‘ekklesia,’ which is actually a combination of the preposition ‘ek’ (‘out of’) and the verb ‘kaleo’ (‘to call’). Combined, it’s the phrase, ‘to call out of,’ identifying a people group that was summoned from its’ former life, into a new one. Church, then, isn’t a building, or an event- it’s an umbrella term for the people who are called specifically by God into a new life with Him, and one another.
To be a part of ‘the church’ isn’t an action at all- it’s a positional shift. It’s the result of a great rescue effort, illustrated by Jesus in this striking analogy:
“Jesus said to (the crowd), “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:7-11)
A profound proclamation- and one of the most gravely misinterpreted in contemporary Christianity.
Jesus wasn’t a weepy emotionalist, as He is often portrayed, but confident, bold, and committed to the truth. Consequently, His social and political standing hovered consistently below par, as He spent a great deal of time deconstructing the image of the religious leaders of the day, referring to them most commonly as hypocrites posing as God’s representatives.
Immediately following His miraculous healing of a blind man, performed on the Sabbath (a breech of the Pharisaical law), Jesus begins a long, colorful rebuke of the religious leaders that strips them of pretense and lays bare their fallacious posturing.
In this scathing monologue, Jesus refers to them as thieves and robbers, ‘that come only to steal and kill and destroy.’
In looser evangelical traditions, an errant doctrine tells us that ‘the thief’ is a reference to the devil, but contextually, this is simply not the case –it’s a direct insult to the Pharisees, where Jesus squarely accuses them of having worldly, material motives for their religious service and not the interests of God at all.
It was the Pharisees who plotted to murder Jesus, and not because he was a nice guy who did miracles- it was because he laid bare their wicked hearts, unapologetically, and coupled with His authoritative teaching and supernatural abilities, He unequivocally won public favor.
Coming to an understanding of the nature of truth unilaterally shifted the lens through which I saw everything. Truth, it turns out, is not the highest pursuit of every individual- including leaders in the church. Truth is often harsh and ugly, so we avoid it. Sanctimonious icing gets slathered over the singed reality, and instead of repenting, we make excuses.
But when our eyes adjust to the glaring intensity of truth, we begin to see that it is exactly this painful passage that leads us to true rest. There is no shortcut from us, to God, by way of self-delusion; we must walk behind a blood-stained Christ and reckon with His incalculable generosity to carry the ugly burden of the sins of the world.
This tremendous advent was not a death march, but the final battle of a timeless war for the redemption of all who were to be called out as servants of the living God; the ecclesia; the church.
“All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21