I feel like I have been taking a refresher course in basic ecclesiology over the course of the past month. I have been reminded of a truth that I have known most of my life but all of a sudden it has become very real to me.
When I was a young man in my very early twenties, I served two years as a missionary in Barranquilla, Colombia. I almost didn’t make it through the two year period for which I had signed up. Barranquilla is about a twenty-minute drive from the Caribbean, a perk that added a lot of enjoyment to our time there.
On one of our excursions to the ocean, I decided that I would swim out to see how far I could go and still stand on one of the sand bars that lay on the ocean floor. I went quite a ways out but when I turned around to start swimming back, I realized that I was caught in an undercurrent that every time I stopped to see if I could touch bottom would pull me further away from the shore. In that moment I knew that drowning was a very real possibility.
I looked around and realized that the person that I had been swimming with had disappeared. I called his name and got no answer. For the next few minutes I fought a major battle with panic. I looked into shore and saw that it was steadily getting further away. All I could think to do was put my head down and swim like I had never swam before. I didn’t even look up until I felt my knee hit the bottom.
During my time in the ocean as I was deciding what to do next, the truth that God was with me even then took on a whole new potency. I was not going to make it to shore in my own strength. I’m not even a very strong swimmer. But God had promised that he was with me. That truth took on a complete new meaning.
Over these past few weeks another truth has taken on that kind of reality for me.
The church is not the building
If I have read that once, I have read it a dozen times over the past month. I thank God for everyone of those reminders. It isn’t that I ever doubted it. I have known it since I was a child. I have repeated it in sermons. It is an important part of my ecclesiology. I have always believed it.
But now it has taken on an entirely new meaning for me. The church is not made up of mortar and bricks. It is not that inanimate thing that sits at the top of a hill in New Dundee. It is the people.
This past week the church family at New Dundee Baptist Church celebrated its first online service. We had a few technical glitches but that didn’t matter. What mattered was seeing the faces of those whom Gloria and I have come to love. When I looked at those faces, some of which I had not seen for several weeks, I knew in a fresh new way that the building was not the church.
Actually I have been in and out of the building several times in the past weeks without feeling any deep sense of loss but when I saw those faces and heard the voices of those who make up my church family, I knew that I was in the presence of something special.
I have no idea what the future holds for churches across Canada. My expectation is that we need to prepare for a marathon. It may be quite a while before we are able to return to our buildings. That first Sunday back is going to be something special but it may not be for some time. Personally I will be surprised if life gets back to normal before the summer. It may even be longer.
Whatever the time period is, I would encourage you to hang onto this truth: The building is not the church!
You are the church. You are what makes up God’s family. As I close I want to leave you with three questions.
- How can you grow closer to God during this time when you are largely confined to your home?
- How can you live out the truth that it is you, the people, who make up the church?
- How can you show God’s love to your community?
Blessings on you all during this difficult period. May you know God’s peace and his presence in the days ahead.