The Who and the What, Not the Where and the How: Rethinking Church

Regardless of historical circumstance or context, the Bible is at the center of God’s revelation to his children. In pages dense with text we read the story of God’s saving works throughout history. We find out God’s terms, how easy it is to violate them, and rejoice at the coming of redemption.

Beyond the larger story of salvation and righteousness are numerous stories that we look to for guidance. We look for what the writers of the Bible condemn and approve, hoping to We hope that our traditions of prayer, worship, and gathering are based on the Scriptures. And while our gatherings are informed by scripture in part, I wonder if we read more into certain scriptures and neglect others that would present a different form for meeting. I hope to take a look at Jesus in particular to see who he gathered with and what happened when he gathered with his disciples.

While I do not have the time to pile up scripture verses, my most recent reading of the Gospels reveals some seemingly unusual contexts for Christian gatherings. Jesus is often in homes, public places, and mountainsides teaching and healing. He surely does teach in the synagogue, but it struck me that a great deal of his ministry occurred in public places and around the dinner table. If anything, Jesus shows us that meaningful Christian gatherings can take place anywhere. By sea, mountainside, or synagogue, he works powerfully in all locations.

The format of Jesus’ teachings may have occasionally resembled the long discourses of our modern day sermons, but I also noticed a great deal of discourse. Jesus is often blowing people’s minds, they ask a question, and then he elaborates.

Caution is advised here of course. Jesus was viewed as a rebel. He was not welcomed in the temple or the synagogues, so his underground meetings outside of the recognized institutions of his day was partially out of necessity. We should not look at Jesus teaching on a mountainside and then try to build a mountainside complete with Olive grove in the middle of the suburbs in order to minister “just like Jesus.” Just as my caricature is ridiculous, so is any other attempt to blindly follow the supposed “prescriptions” of the Bible for public worship. Early Christians met in homes because (a) they were poor and (b) they were being killed. The appearance of homes in the Bible is not a sanction for their superiority as a meeting place. It was practical.

Without saying one way or another is the way to meet, I think that we can learn a great deal about the principles of meeting together from Jesus and let the Holy Spirit apply them to our context as he will. Any emerging ministry that locks on a Bible passage as the model and blue print for their gathering format has missed the point. The point isn’t so much the where or even the how, it’s the who and the what. The Christians gathered, they shared their lives and possessions, there was teaching, there was discussion, there was eating. The Bible does not outline how or where this needs to happen. Just make sure the right people get together and do something that includes the triune God and his principles laid out in the Bible.

To say that the Bible is here to guide us and not to give us a model to follow is not an attack on it. I’m more interested in re-appropriating the Bible into something far better than “model”. The Bible is God’s story of salvation and he shows how things work and with who. He will do the how and where differently depending on time and place. There will surely be a resemblance throughout each gathering with the who and the what, but to get hung up on the where and the how is to introduce dogmatism that is not called for.