Do you know what church is? For a moment, jot down your definition. Or, just keep it in mind. In this book, Jeremy Myers attempts to define exactly that.
- Defining Church – The author gets into the bare bone definition of church, which is “the people of God who follow Jesus into the world”. The purpose is to lay a foundation of who Christians are, no matter which denomination or movement they’re part of. Initially, although I fully agree with the first part of the definition (“the people of God”), I felt that the second part could have been more along the lines of “who follow in the ways of Jesus”. Nothing major. I think, for me, “into the world” assumes that Christians are alien to the real, social, human context. That we are totally uninvolved with the world. In addition, I began to wonder, “what do we do when we enter “the world”? Is church simply a people chosen by a God who’s led by Jesus to venture outside the Christian bubble into the secular world?
- People of God – Other than “People of God”, a couple other phrases many use for church are, “Body of Christ” and “Family of God”. He shares how the latter phrases, though okay to use at times, are insufficient in comparison to the former. The “Body of Christ” and “Family of God” casts an image of what a church looks like or how it functions but it doesn’t define who they are. So these two phrases by itself are insufficient at defining church. The Jewish people are considered people of God too, but they aren’t the church. So, there needs a clarifying of who the church is. And so the author continues.
- Follow Jesus – In the Jewish world during Jesus’ time, disciples were students of a rabbi. In their culture students were more active than passive learners. In other words, students were apprentices. And that is what Jesus called his followers to be. That is, disciples would be those who learned by following and practicing in the way of their master. The author prefers to the more limited term, “follow Jesus”. I find that term problematic because it makes me wonder if that leads to a more discernment-needing view than a doing-what-Jesus-did approach. But this is where we disagree. It is the author’s conviction that we shouldn’t aim to do as Jesus did instead, we should wait and listen to Jesus.
- Into the World – The last part to his definition of church is “into the world”. He shares that the mission of the people of God who follow Jesus are to be “salt and light” as we intentionally mingle with non-Christians. Like the two words just before “Into the World”, I find it is somewhat unclear and unhelpful to a non-churchgoer. This part might be too Christianese. Christians are the only one’s who’ll understand the meaning of “the world”. To a non-Christian, it could mean the globe, the elements, animal life, or. As for those who know the Christian language, it makes sense and we would most likely agree. This might be a little extra since it adds a what to the definition of who. Though, I guess, a church cannot be a church if they don’t have a mission.
- Get Some Flesh on Those Bones – The flesh is what makes up or dresses up the bones. The definition of church – The People of God who Follow Jesus into the World – are the bones. It merely provides the structure or foundation of church. This is what all Christians should agree on (although, I kind of disagreed but not to any major significance). With everything else, there’s some flexibility. I think of this as human beings…we all have bones, but each person looks different. One universal church, multiple expressions.
Overall, this was a good, insightful, short book on the definition of church. Actually, I wish there were more books like this! I love when authors can condense their information for the average reader.
More than the topic of this book, it got me thinking about how much the modern church, specifically the evangelical church, has changed from the early church. Rather than being defined as the People of God who Follow Jesus into the World (or my definition, “the People of God who follow in the Ways of Jesus by Transforming our World”) we’ve become defined by our politics, our buildings, our services. Members of the Republican party who contribute towards multi-million-dollar centers for energy-and-emotionally-charged Sunday gatherings. This is not to bash any of these three, because I am apart of these…But let’s not let these things define us, Church of America.