What is the Church? – Part 1

One may walk into Sunday’s vast auditoriums or quaint country chapels and feel a connection to centuries of those before us who’ve given themselves in worship to God. Indeed, it’s truly extraordinary to see how the kingdom of a single historical leader from a simple moment in time has exploded in worldwide reality, spanning hundreds of generations and nearly every land mass on the planet until it bursts forth in the pews we fill. The Church is extraordinary.

But what is the Church–what is it really? How did a concept of God crisscross the globe through message rather than military conquest? When all other religious ideals were shaped by tribal custom or nationalistic identity–when all others used military conquest to offer greater influence for their God–how did the message of Jesus spread as it did, in its own unique way? How did we become the Church that hell’s gates couldn’t stop, and how do we continue to be that Church in our settings?

Over the next few weeks, I hope to walk that journey with you. Ours is not a mere history lesson, but a careful look at the truth about our weaknesses played out amidst His strength; our uncertainties overrun by the power of His Spirit. And, in the end, I hope we’ll gain the firmest of answers to the final question in that last paragraph.

To understand the Church in its beginning, you must understand uncertainty.

If there’s one consistent theme among the disciples in their post-resurrection reality it’s their uncertainty. Now what? What do we do? Before His death, Jesus was the daily guide for their life’s direction. He chose destinations, led encounters with people, and usually gave them assignments to participate in what He was doing. But that all changed when the stone sealed His tomb.

Since that horrid day, and the glorious one that followed three days later, things were different–things never went back to “normal.” Now a very-much-alive Jesus is a random presence, showing up in unexpected moments and even unexpected ways. For the disciples, there’s now a lot of alone time and their lack of clear next steps shows up a few times in the Bible’s narrative.

“I’m going fishing…” that’s Peter’s plan, and even a couple of the non-fishermen decided to tag along. What else do we do? At this juncture, Peter’s status in the group is still a bit uncertain, smarting as he is from his three-pronged failure on the night of Jesus’ trial. But it’s not just Peter’s misery in that boat. Disoriented and uncertain disciples decide a first lesson in the nets is a good use of their time too. Of course, Jesus steps into the John 21 story with a miracle and a breakfast full of his own fish, and, well, at least one more day has some meaning.

In Acts 1, Luke seems to be giving us a nice package of Jesus’ final words, but at least one of his interviews yielded the near-comical moment of the disciples staring long into the sky as Jesus waved goodbye. It seems they stood there long enough to necessitate an angelic visit to close their gaping mouths and try to steer them toward the commands they’d just been given.

But now what…

How did that confusion merge into the purposeful direction that has marked more than two millennia of the Church? How did these uncertain moments morph into the determined sandals that would “turn the world upside down?” Well, that part of the story is coming, but first we must wallow in their confusion for a bit. You see, they didn’t move from dependence to independence, from weakness to determined strength. Instead, many of them remembered a key instruction and found what they needed in a simple step or two of obedience. And within a couple of chapters, they were off to change the world. But make no mistake about it–the amazing story of the Church began with a remarkable level of uncertainty.

So how did they become the global force we know today? Stay tuned…

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