This morning we took a break from Romans to look at the nature of the Church. We saw from 1 Peter 2:9 that the church is a people, not a place. The church is “a people belonging to God,” those he has called to himself from among both the religious and the irreligious (Romans 9:24). In this new people, there are no racial, clerical, or national boundaries. These human divisions are superceded as we find our common identity in being Christ’s Church, the people who belong to him.
If you would rather read than listen, the essence of the sermon in essay form can be found here: The Nature of the Church
When we engage this conversation, the question often arises: what is the interaction of people and place? Granted, the church is a people and not a place. But people congregate at places. And people live in places. And places shape people. Evan asked this morning: should I be inviting people to come to church (the place) with me, or is that the wrong approach?
My answer is that this is essentially a means-and-ends question. Church (the place) is a means toward the end of shaping the church (the people) in obedience to God. We gather each week to renew our covenant with God and with each other – to be reminded of who we are and whose we are. If inviting people to church (better: the church gathering) on Sunday is an end in itself, that’s bad. But if it’s a means toward the greater end of seeing them embrace the gospel and join the people of God, great! That’s exactly what we’re trusting Jesus to do: to use our feeble, sinful, humble efforts to glorify his name and build his kingdom and gather his people. For, in Omaha as in Corinth, God has “many people [yet to be converted] in this city” (Acts 18:10).
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Do you think the competition between individual congregations has been a major factor in diminishing our awareness of the universal Church and leading to our emphasis on a particular place?
I would agree. I think the same can be said of a tendency of placing too great an emphasis on a particular way of doing things in the church. Just look at the cookie-cutter formula for creating evangelical mega-churches (lighted stages, hundreds of individualized ministries, the biggest and coolest youth group in town, slick video promos featuring professional wrestlers, etc.)
I think that we too must be careful not emphasize the “accidental” Coram Deo more than the true gospel of Jesus Christ that we are trying to live out through Coram Deo. Coram Deo is a special group of people, but I think we should be careful not to center our identity as a church on our progressive blogging activities, our different-from-the-norm worship services, or our relatively youthful congregation, etc. (all things that I absolutely love about CD by the way). I don’t think drawing people in with hip music and internet culture is any different than drawing them in with Hulk Hogan.
When we talk about Coram Deo, lets talk about the gospel and what it really means to “live before the face of God.” Let’s bring people with us on Sunday (or to MC during the week) to experience Jesus and not just to experience some version of the Christian counter-culture. Let’s define ourselves by our adherence to Biblical Christianity and not by our unique way of doing things. After all, Coram Deo itself won’t change anybody, but the true gospel, as it is preached by Bob and Will and JD and as it is lived out among the rest of us, will.
I think that everyone does a pretty good job of this, but I often find that the first thing I am willing to share with people about Coram Deo is all the cool stuff that goes on around the church and not what is at its center. I need to do better.
Falling off my giant soapbox…