I mentioned in my reflection on intimacy and public worship that I had some more ecclesiological thoughts in response to Donald Miller. Instead of putting Donald Miller’s ecclesiology to the question, I will simply explore how we are talking about church attendance and how we may approach that from asking questions of what sort of thing we are as the Body of Christ, the Church.
My corner of the interwebs tells me there is much anxiety and frustration about church attendance. My sense of all this is that we want to make church many things: intimate encounter with God, community, cultural expression, an environment for learning, etc. In many ways church is all those things and more. However, one can find those things elsewhere. They don’t give compelling reason for why there should be church, and even less compelling reason to attend church. These reasons for going to church or being part of a church are all good things, but not sufficient reason to bother with church.
The Apostle Paul uses the language of body to talk about the ecclesia. This language is both political, that is in the sense of body politic, and biological, as in what makes up a biological organism. Elsewhere Paul also uses the language of a temple, a structure that is both built and organically grows (ya, he mixes metaphors to get at what the ecclesia is).
Then we have our english term “church” , which translates the greek word ecclesia. Our usage “church” varies. Church can, in its broadest sense, be any religious institution. More specifically and more commonly “church” means any institutionalised group of Christians, a local congregation and/or a denomination of Christians.
If I’m remembering correctly the etymology, is the germanic Kierke which was derived from the greek Kyrie (Lord), that which belongs to the Lord (God, Christ).
As the Church we are the people of God, an ecclesia, a gathered people, called and gathered together by God.
What I’d like to suggest is that to be the Church, and to do what the Church does, ie worship, is formative. We are formed, built and grow into what we are. This takes all sorts of rites, rituals, and activities. These have various forms corporate, bodily, personal. Yet, none of those things exhaust who we are and who we are being formed into. This is formative and it is collective. Church and worship are about being a body, stones built into a living temple. Through baptism, faith, Eucharist we are becoming, and are, a holy nation of priests, together.
It’s possible that we can be tempted to reduce church to only one aspect of our usage, such as if we were to assume church is only a building based on english usage that elides the architectural structure of our being gathered and who we are as the people of God, because the building and the group carry the same name. However, the problem isn’t that the place of our gathering bears the name of who we are as the body of Christ, nor is the problem that it comes to be attached to the activity of gathering. The problem is separating ourselves from what we are through seeing church as a building or an activity that exists or goes on without us.
I want to suggest that our participation is key in becoming what we are, but this formation doesn’t occur because of our action only. Our actions are what agree with what God is doing.
We get baptised, we eat bread and wine, we are anointed, hands are laid upon us, and these things form us into a particular type of “being”, but they do so because of what God is doing in and through these rituals rites, actions, words, music, and eating.
We can neither be solely focused on God, nor solely focused on what we do. Nor is this about my personal individual experience, unless by personal one posits the presence of others, and God as the ultimate other, as part of the makeup of the person.
What I have said here, simply scratches the surface of what church and worship are and do. We are and are becoming what God forms us into. We are what God gathers us to, we become the people of God , the Body of Christ, the Ecclesia, the Lord’s. We are the church and so we go to church, and we attend church as the church. And language fails us, and language helps us know who we are becoming, a living temple.