I am the second oldest of nine children, which meant that our house was normally busy and noisy, which more than enough noise created by squabbles among us kids. Very early on, my parents taught us the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names never hurt”. Supposedly, that would teach us to ignore the inevitable name-calling and therefore avoid a lot of the reason for sibling squabbles.
It didn’t work, because as any reasonable adult knows, names do hurt–and the truth is that names can hurt as much as or more than a physical blow. That is because words count–they carry great weight and so the words we use and how we use them have a major effect on life. As I have written before, whether it is “my” church or “our” church makes a real difference in the way I relate to the church and what I expect from the church.
So, what words can we use that help us understand the reality of the church? How can we refer to the church and our relationship to it in a way that allows us to be reminded of the fact that the church is a gathering of people who share faith in God, a commitment to each other and a commitment to service? It would also be nice is using it didn’t take five minutes to get out.
Keep in mind that we are always going to end up saying “my” and “our” at some point. But we do need some way of describing church that helps us remember just who and what we are. For me, that means I need to make frequent references to the founder, sustainer and owner of the church. The church was founded by God through Jesus Christ. The church was part of God’s plan for humanity from the beginning.
Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, God both guides and empowers the church. He calls us to various ministries, grants us the gifts and abilities we need to carry out that ministry, and works in and through us as we carry out that ministry. In the end, it is his church, the gathering of his people who come together to help each other grow together towards him and do his will. It is God’s church–not mine, not ours.
God’s church takes a variety of forms, meets in a variety of places, is comprised of a variety of people, engages in a variety of ministries, worships in a wide variety of ways–but in the end, it is God’s church and he is seeking to work in and through it to accomplish his ends.
That is not just good theology–but it is also good linguistics. Many of the problems that I have seen in the church in all its incarnations come about because someone or some group has chosen to forget that it is God’s church and sought to direct the gathering in their own ways for their own ends.
If it is God’s church, we are seeking to follow God and his leading. And since there is none of us who is in perfect harmony with God, we all need the rest of the church to ensure that we get it right. If it is God’s church, we all seek to discover how our gifts and talents and abilities work together to achieve God’s ends for the church. If it is God’s church, our task is not to get our way but to discover and do God’s will.
On a practical level, it isn’t always convenient to refer to the churches I am part of as God’s church. It can become cumbersome to have to say something like “I am part of God’s church which meets in the Baptist meeting house in Port Lorne”–so I end up saying “our” church a lot and “my” church occasionally. But mentally, I work at thinking “God’s” church and speak it as often as I can without forcing the language or sounding like too much of a religious fanatic.
Experiencing the wonder of being a part of God’s church is much more gratifying and uplifting than being part of a group that exists to do my will.
May the peace of God be with you.