One of the unfortunate developments of the church in the 19th and 20th century is that it became settled. By that I mean it allowed itself to be identified as a place. The church (read, church facility) became a geographical center for religious activity.  We grew up going to church.

In so doing, the church also became a place where the world was not.  The world came to the church to become Christians.  In fact, many churches worried that if the world did not become converted but kept coming to the church, it might corrupt the church.  The church became more and more a “temple” with distinct boundaries and specific behaviors.

Am I talking about the church building now or the church as the body of Christians called the church? Actually, it is pretty fuzzy. Think about being an outsider and trying to make sense of this. Is the church a place or is it a people?

A church building is a beth ‘el, a house of God. But the bethel, the physical entity that functions as a temple is not the church – not scripturally speaking.

In this development, many American churches lost their identity as the laos, the people of God.  The church is not a building. The church is a people.  To quote a popular slogan of today, “Don’t go to church, be the church.”

If we can let go of our confusing identification of the church as a building, we might really begin to grasp and to practice what Jesus understand the church to be. The church is the people of God on a mission for God.  Hence, the Great Commission:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 25:18-20 (NIV)

Jesus had prepared the ground for this when he earlier taught his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

Ed Stetzer has written that many churches don’t “act like they’ve sent. They act like they’ve arrived.”

Isn’t it time for the church to once again understand it is being sent – and then go?

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