Church. Usually that word conjures up mental images of ornate cathedrals, elaborate decoration, medieval-era architecture, and musty, dead-quiet echo chamber innards with the faint residue of chorales in Latin. Okay, maybe that’s not your visual but often it has been mine and perhaps is for many.
It’s sort of like a model home. For a while before we moved into our current house a few years ago, every now and then Helen would want to visit model homes around town. I’m not sure if you’ve ever visited one of these, but they’re much like I described the visual of the “church” above … pristinely-decorated quarters that hardly look lived-in, let alone well-worn from the day-to-day interactions of life, family, and friends.
But that’s not the visual the Bible wants us to have. As I read through John 21 to Acts 4 this past week, I caught one glimpse of the church as the Bible would express it. In Acts 2:43-47, we get what I believe is an incredibly apt description …
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
When we look at the way the early apostles gathered and fellowshipped together, we get the sense that “church” is much less a noun and much more a verb. We don’t go to church, we do church. Or at least that’s how it seems the Bible tells us it should be. Using the analogy we started with, it’s much more like a comfy, lived-in house than a model home. But what does it mean to “do” church? The example of the first-century group as described in Acts 2 provides some vivid views on it.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching – what was the apostles’ teaching? The Bible! Of course, they were teaching from their personal experience, which ultimately became the inspired, written word of God. But, what we can see from this first example of “doing church” it has to be centered on the solid, accurate teaching of God’s word.
They devoted themselves to fellowship and sharing in meals – spending time together, eating together, doing life together, talking, laughing, etc. All too often when we “go to church” there’s almost an equal emphasis on going home from church. Some of the most precious times I’ve had when “doing church” have come after the church service, spending time talking to fellow believers, getting to know them better. Missing this type of time is truly robbing ourselves of momentous engagement and relationship-building. We should stop being in such a hurry to leave church. We should stop avoiding the “together” of doing church.
They devoted themselves to prayer – nothing knits our hearts together with other believers than praying with them. Instead of saying to someone, “I’ll be praying for you,” think about the power of saying, “hey, can I pray with you right now?” It doesn’t need to be elaborate or take a lot of time (but again, we shouldn’t be in such a hurry anyhow), but I can say firsthand that I have friends today that I ONLY have because either I took an opportunity to pray with or for them, or they me. When we pray together, God promises to be there in our midst (Matthew 18:20), and any friendship of which He’s a part is indelible, long-lasting, and fruitful.
They shared everything they had … they shared money with those in need … they were generous – again, there is something about generosity and serving together with other believers that tends to create lasting bonds of friendship. It also creates a deep-rooted bond with the beneficiaries of the benevolence, and boomerangs the blessing back upon us.
And perhaps the most important reason to avoid the “model home” style of going to rather than “doing” church …
Each day the Lord added to their fellowship … people are attracted to our “doing church.” Not so much the “model home” form of “going to church,” especially when we’re not around long enough to make church seem attractive. Model homes are great … to visit once in a while. But go to a warm, loving, comforting house where beloved people reside and I’d argue we’ll never want to leave. The same is true of “doing” rather than “going to” church.
Doing church is a growth experience. Going to church is a pedestrian experience. Let’s ask God prayerfully this week to reorient the way we engage in church … to remind us that the “model home” edition might look nice, but it’s stale and useless. An oft-visited, friendly, comfortable house is far better for the growth God wants to endow to us.
Soli Deo Gloria!