What do you think of when someone says the word 'Church'?
For many people the first thing that will come to mind is a building. Dotted around our country are thousands of church buildings. Over hundreds of years these have become significant landmarks and so the idea of church as a building is one that is regularly reinforced.
Other people will think of the church as an institution. This can range from the traditional denominational structures with all the hierarchy and paraphernalia that often go with them. Yet, even newer churches that are more independent can be institutional in their thinking; following unwritten rules that only a few people understand and know. There may appear to be greater freedom and spontaneity but this can be a superficial impression laid over quite rigid man made structures.
Over the coming weeks as we run up to Easter we shall be exploring what the New Testament writers said about church. In doing this we will be examining passages that simply describe what the early believers did, seeing what we can learn from their example. Other passages focus on the theological concepts of God showing us how churches connect people to God and to each other. Whilst other passages are more directive giving us instruction on how to do church, how to choose leaders and what their role should be.
During the course of 7 messages it won't be possible to cover everything that the New Testament can teach us about Church. 2,000 years of church history has resulted in an enormous diversity of churchmanship. A survey conducted in 2010 discovered that in the UK alone there were 340 Christian denominations with 50,700 congregations served by 36,600 ministers and with 5,515,0o0 members. Ask the leaders of any of those churches and they will tell you that they are faithfully implementing biblical principles in the way that they do church.
Please pray that as we embark on this series we will be able to do so with grace and humility and be open to the Holy Spirit revealing where human thinking has been more significant in shaping how we do church than biblical truth. Pray that we will be willing to step outside the comfort zone of the familiar, yet at the same time not dismiss everything from our past experience, good or bad, simply in the pursuit of novelty.
Pray that we will fulfil God's intention for the church: 'His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.' Ephesians 3:10-11 (NIV 2011). The church is God's plan A. There is no plan B