Inevitably I get asked this question whenever running into people who are likely Christian but don’t know me well. For some time now, I’ve been conducting a kind of experiment with my response, which goes something like “Not really going to church; just focusing on being the church.” After the wrinkled foreheads straighten and the dazed looks clear, most have no clue what I just said. In all fairness, however, I did answer a different kind of question.
Naturally, those interlocutors (or should I say “interrogators?”) merely want to find a category in which to put me. They want to know what kind of Christian I am. Given that Christianity has been so fragmented over the centuries (charismatic, non-charismatic, Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, etc.), not to mention our pluralistic society lending itself to every conceivable religious flavor these days (just look at Eckhart Tolle and Oprah!), people likely want to know what box I fit into when finding that I’m Christian. After all, “mere Christianity” after the manner in which C. S. Lewis intended has been eclipsed by relativism and historical ignorance and it no longer gives folks enough of a handle.
But I have to ask: “What is the Church?” On the one hand, it seems we have become so reductionistic that church is simply an aggregate of bodies, bucks, and buildings; an organization that is institutionalized by paid professionals with a tax-exempt status. On the other, we narrowly define church by our specified experiences of it within a localized, privitized, customized, denominationized weekly gathering.
As I read the New Testament, “church” refers to “the people of God,” whether locally or globally expressed. Metaphors referring to the Church include the “body” (Colossians 1:18), “temple” (Ephesians 2:20-21), “virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2), “bride” (Revelation 21:9), “people” (Titus 2:14), “flock” (1 Peter 5:2-4), “household” (Ephesians 2:19), “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15), “chosen people, holy nation, royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), etc.
Given this data, I doubt anyone in the first century would even ask another “Where do you go to church?” Neither would anyone ask this question today of believers in China or Afghanistan. This is because the term “church” was and is an identity to hold; not a place to go.
Rather than ask “Where do you go to church?” why hasn’t anyone ever asked “How are you focusing on being the Church?”