Where are the Dividing Lines?

Let’s take a brief inventory:

Trinitarian versus Arian.

Calvinism versus Arminianism.

Infant baptism versus believer’s baptism.

Cessationism versus continuationism.

Young earth creationism versus old earth creationism.

Complementarianism versus egalitarianism.

Church organs versus guitar and drums.

Carpet versus tile.

Ok. So those last couple of examples might have been a little facetious. Churches never fight over music or buildings.

Right. Ok.

But my real question is: At what point do differences between Christians become something worth dividing over?

I could add to the above list more current hot-button cultural talking points such as Critical Race Theory, LBGTQ issues, COVID restrictions, masks, and vaccines, Liberal or Conservative, and Democrat or Republican.

I don’t think I have ever seen politics and culture have as profound an effect on Christians and churches as much as I have over the last few years or so–and maybe especially over the last year. I know it’s always been a reality, but with COVID-19 it feels like everything has gone up several notches. Whether the last year has simply exacerbated pre-existing differences or has given rise to new ones, I don’t know. But it’s incredibly frustrating and discouraging as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor.

What differences are fundamental and which are secondary? How do we define what we might call a “gospel” issue? Because not every conflict or issue listed above ought to carry the same theological weight. So, how do we weigh these matters?

Part of what I am wondering is how much difference of opinion can exist within one congregation, in one body of believers? If in one congregation you have significantly different political perspectives, can people of such deep but differing convictions still serve together for the sake of the kingdom? What about theological differences regarding the age of the earth and how to read and interpret Genesis 1 and 2? What if two people in a group of believers reach different conclusions? Can they still serve in the church alongside one another, pray together, and worship together?

At what point do differences become intractable? And is this always necessarily a matter of conviction or is it sometimes relational rather than theological? That is, might it be that the issue is more about my inability to accept that someone else doesn’t share my view which I hold so strongly?

In other words, can I accept someone else as a brother or sister in Christ even if they don’t believe everything exactly as I do? And where do I draw the line? Or better put: how do I determine where to draw the line?

Are Christians destined to gather only in groups where there is agreement on virtually every issue, both theological and cultural? Are we only comfortable having fellowship with Christians who never challenge our assumptions and ideas?

Look, I’m not saying that a Christian can never have a good reason to leave a church or even switch denominations or traditions. I am a trinitarian who thinks Arianism was heresy. I am a continuationist with respect to spiritual gifts. What I am asking is how we make that determination. What is our standard? And before you say our standard is the Bible, remember that people reach very different conclusions based on their interpretations of Scripture. Not that I disagree with saying the Bible is our ultimate guide to faith and practice, just that it’s a little messier than simply making that assertion.

Maybe I can put it this way. What was Jesus praying for in John 17? In case you don’t know what I mean, John 17 contains what is often called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. He prays for his disciples and for those who will believe because of their ministry. After he prays for his disciples, he goes on to pray this way:

I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.

John 17:20-23

What kind of oneness is Jesus praying about for his disciples and future followers?

Better yet: Has Jesus’ prayer been answered? What would that look like?

I think of what I read elsewhere in the Bible too.

Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

What sort of unity is Paul talking about? And is it the sort of unity that can exist between believers who do differ from one another on some matters? Can unity even exist if there aren’t differences? Without differences, isn’t unity simply uniformity?

Paul’s words also point to the underlying relational aspect to unity. Such unity requires humility, gentleness, patience, love, forgiveness. This unity requires effort to maintain. It is grounded in the very unity of the trinitarian Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Given the current tenor of cultural conversation on divisive issues, and the inability of many to have such conservations in a civil and winsome way, ought not the church, by the power of the Spirit, be able to provide a better example about how to deal with differences? Rather than join the arguing, are we not able–together!–to bring more light than heat thanks to the gospel of our Lord Jesus?

Perhaps more of us who say we are followers of Jesus ought to turn the above passages from John and Ephesians into prayers of our own. Maybe then we will more clearly see what unites us rather than what divides us.

My Story Part 15: What? Me, a Pastor?

I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t interested in truth or God or church or Jesus. So much so that I have long understood the arc of my life through the lens of what God is doing (or wants to be doing) in me. Even in those seasons when I drifted away, not only did God always pull me back but he actually never left me. Though I may have been paying significantly less attention to him, his eye was always on me. All I have to do is stop and consider all of the times I may have made an especially poor decision, or the times when a particular door just didn’t open like I wanted, and it’s clear that God was in some measure protecting me. When it comes to some of the potential decisions I could have made or paths I could have taken, I genuinely believe he was keeping me safe from the worst of myself.

True, I still made mistakes. Like I said, I have at times drifted. But never to the point of significant self-destruction. Never to the point where my life was irrevocably set in an unfortunate direction that I would regret but be unable to do anything about.

And I don’t really know why this is so. Why has God allowed my life to go as it has? What don’t I know about how my life may have gone that would explain the gracious providence of God’s hand? What dangerous turns might I have taken were it not for my Lord’s gentle prodding in one way or another?

Was all of it so that I could be where I am now? I mean, God has known all of my days from from the foundation of the world. Did he protect and steer my life so that I could later be a pastor, of all things?

There are things I will never know on this side of eternity.

What’s funny is that while I was studying for my MA, I remember thinking that being a pastor looked like an altogether undesirable calling. Having to wear a suit and tie all the time, dealing with church boards and committees, seeming to be always on guard around other people–none of this was attractive to me. I mostly saw older men who seemed dull and humourless. Give me instead some good theology books, evenings out with friends and good conversation, the chance to serve with a university campus ministry, and I’ll be happy.

God, being God, always has the last laugh, of course.

So how did it happen?

While I was at Acadia Divinity College, most of my classmates were, in fact, studying for their MDiv, the required degree for pastoral ministry. Over time I found myself feeling envious of some of their experience, how they were growing, and the way going through this together was creating a unique bond between them. I felt like an outsider. Not only because I was in a different academic program, but because I knew virtually nothing about this strange, Baptist world of local church ministry and what being a pastor was about.

At one point, I talked with the Dean of Students about what it would take to earn an MDiv alongside my MA. Wisely, she probed into my motivations. And at that stage they had nothing to do with discerning a calling from God into pastoral ministry or a calling that would require an MDiv. After graduating from ADC, I was off to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. There I would earn my PhD in theology and from there go on to teach theology in a university, college, or Bible school somewhere. So that was that.

But at Mac I was in another university environment that included a local seminary. I quickly found myself surrounded by friends who were studying to be pastors, who were already pastors, and who didn’t want to be pastors but eventually became pastors. In fact, the friend with whom I shared an apartment in Hamilton, who went to McMaster to get his masters in Math, eventually experienced a call to ministry, went on to get his MDiv and become a pastor. They were dropping like flies all around me!

I wonder if God was putting me in proximity with certain people and leading me into some experiences in order to open me up to the possibility of pastoral ministry. During this time, I admit I occasionally wondered what preaching would be like. After all, I had lots of friends who were doing it. I knew I wanted to teach theology. Besides, isn’t that basically what a pastor does, preach and teach?

Without getting into the weeds of the story, I left McMaster after four years without a finished PhD. Honestly, my time in Hamilton counts as something of a lowpoint spiritually and personally. I was tired and didn’t know if I could finish what I’d started–or if I wanted to do so. On the one hand, it was only four years; on the other hand, I’d been in university in one way or another for more than a decade.

However, during my third year at Mac, I also met the woman who would later become my wife. We met online (a story all by itself!). We got engaged less than a year after we met. This is one of the reasons I moved back home to New Brunswick–to get married! And it was getting married, in part, that led to my entering pastoral ministry.

Note: The lesson here, of course, is if you want to avoid being called into pastoral ministry, don’t marry someone you meet online.

Or maybe not.

Looking back at that season of my life, it’s hard to believe how naive I was. We got married in the summer of 2002, were living with my in-laws at the time, and I had no job prospects at all.

After we were married, I began looking for work. I got a job working at a call center (attempting) to sell AT&T long distance phone services. My wife did too. Though she didn’t last as long as me. Neither of us were particularly suited to that work. Obviously, working at a call center couldn’t be the long term plan for our livelihood.

As it happens, there was a small Baptist church in the area whose pastor was retiring. It was the church my father-in-law grew up attending. His mother and a couple of his sisters still attended there. And the church was looking for supply preachers while they began searching for a new pastor.

Can you imagine what happened next? Did I excitedly compile my resume, hoping against hope that not only would I get the chance to do some supply preaching but maybe even be considered for the pastor’s position?

Well, not exactly. I got my resume ready, yes. But largely at the prompting of my wife and, I think, my mother-in-law. In submitting my resume, I really didn’t know if it was the right thing to do or not. Or if I wanted it to be. I was newly married, living with my in-laws, and my options were, shall we say, limited.

Both my wife and I were interviewed by one of their deacons, and were offered the opportunity to preach a number of times in the fall and winter of 2002–2003. Eventually, after we had preached there several times, they asked us to consider being their part-time pastoral team. A husband and wife ministry package! One of our church regulars later quipped that “the church got two pastors for the price of half-a-one.” After much prayer and conversation, we accepted the invitation.

Let me pause here. Some of you might think: That doesn’t sound very spiritual. Some of you might ask: But did you feel a call to pastoral ministry? That is, apart from the invitation to do some supply preaching, did I have a strong and certain inward sense that God was calling me to enter pastoral ministry?

Or did the clouds part and a clear voice (sounding suspiciously like Morgan Freeman) tell me to consider pastoral ministry?

Were there trumpets?

Songs of angels?

Put simply, no.

Here’s the thing: I almost never experience anything that way. I am almost never certain about big life decisions. It’s simply not who I am. But especially at that point in my life, I was still driven by a lot of fear and indecision.

But God knew me then like he knows me now, and if he wanted me in pastoral ministry he also knew, therefore, how it would have to happen. He would have to push through all of my emotional baggage and personality quirks in order for me to listen.

I’m guessing that had God tried the aggressive approach, I would have been like Moses at the burning bush. “Ummm, are you sure you want me to do this? You must have someone better you can call. I really don’t think I’m your best choice. That, and I really don’t want to do it.”

So what made it possible for me to consider such a calling at that time? It helped that this was a very small church, as well as one connected to my wife’s family. It was part time. We wouldn’t have to move a great distance (the parsonage was less than 10 minutes from my in-laws) and so we would still have a family support system in the area. While it was a serious commitment, it wasn’t an overwhelmingly frightening step to take. I didn’t know if this would end up as a life long calling, but it was the chance to explore the possibility and to see where God might lead us from there.

One step at a time, right?

Thinking about it now, just how gracious and patient is God?

It brings to mind some folks in Scripture. Abram was 75 before God called him. Moses, again, was 80 before God appeared in the burning bush, telling Moses to get his people off of Egyptian soil. Paul was a persecutor of the church with murderous intentions before Jesus knocked him to the ground with a blinding light.

Isn’t it possible that God, being the perfect shepherd that he is, knows not only precisely where to lead but how to get us there?

And doesn’t God make a habit of calling undeserving, unprepared, unexpected people to do his will?

Doesn’t God colour outside the lines?

In any case, my wife and I spent roughly three years pastoring at our first church. The people were kind, gracious, and encouraging. Especially given my nearly total lack of ministry experience. At the time, my wife had more experience in ministry. In some ways, the folks at this church were my seminary professors. And I really began to learn what pastoring was about.

I should say that this is why the Body of Christ is important with respect to someone hearing God’s call. Not every individual will see in themselves what God and even other people might see in them. At our first church, I also felt very affirmed and encouraged in what I was doing as a pastor.

When our first church was no longer able to support us financially, God graciously provided a call to another congregation. We were at our next church for nearly 9 years, had ups and downs, real struggles and joys. Most importantly, we grew to love the people there. Every time we have the chance to go back and visit, which isn’t often, I am glad to see old friends.

Our current church has been our spiritual home for nearly 7 years. Again, life being what it is, we’ve experienced much in this time. Some good, some not as good–and I’m not speaking only of church here but of family life and everything in between. Indeed, one of the lessons, I think, of pastoral life (and the Christian life) is learning to trust and walk with Jesus in the ordinary and the messy, in the uncertain and the imperfect. Don’t abandon the call or turn tail and run when things get hard or confusing. Resist the tendency to think that life and ministry shouldn’t be difficult because God has called us and promises to be with us. Understand that God seeks to extract all manner of wrong-headedness from our hearts and minds and to produce resilience and perseverance, to grow us into saints with roots planted deep in gospel soil.

All throughout these years, right up until the present, God has been (and continues to be) mysteriously and wonderfully at work. It’s not always easy to tell what God is doing. Sometimes I just don’t know. And I wonder and question. More often I question myself. But part of the Christian life is developing the eyes to see the hand of God in the very ordinariness of our lives. It also means trusting God’s heart when his hand is hidden. Our lives are hidden with God in Christ. We live between the now and not yet. We’re not always gifted with the privilege of knowing how God is using us in the immediate present. Perhaps this is for our good.

Over the years, I have wrestled with the notion of call, and what it has meant for me to experience a call. Because I didn’t grow up in the evangelical sub-culture or the Baptist family of churches. I wasn’t familiar with the language or the expectations. Both then and now, I have never felt like I quite fit in. Truthfully, I feel like an awkward fit most places I go. Even after all of these years in ministry, I still don’t feel like a “traditional” pastor.

What I do know–and what I feel deep down in my soul–is that I want to lead and help others to follow Jesus. I want them to know Jesus, and to understand that Jesus, in knowing us perfectly, loves us just as much. I want to proclaim the reality of the kingdom. I want to preach the resurrection and new life. I want to live intentionally in the presence of the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I want to help others do likewise.

Wherever God plunks me down so that I can be a part of that is up to him.

And if there’s one crucial thing I have learned is that life doesn’t proceed on a clear, linear path from A to B (much less from A to Z!). Or, I should say, God doesn’t often lead us on this sort of path. Sometimes what we want from God is exactly what he withholds in order to teach us to trust in him. And let’s be honest, that can be frustrating. You’re probably like me; you want the well-marked roadmap for your life, to know all the twists and turns in advance to be sure you’re making the right decisions. “Good luck with that,” God says, “That’s not how this is going to go.” Learning to be ok with that, and even to prefer it, is what it means to orient your life around the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this is true whether God calls you, step by step, into pastoral ministry, or to another calling altogether.

Thoughts on Prayer: Learning to Pray from Scripture (Part 1)

There is a wide variety of literature in the books of the Old and New Testament: poems, historical narrative, letters, and Jewish apocalyptic writings, to name but a few. And, amazingly, God in his grace and wisdom divinely inspired the various authors of the Bible to reveal himself and his purposes through all of them. Indeed, Scripture is our all sufficient well-spring of truth to draw from to be obedient people of faith.

And woven throughout many of the books of the Bible are passages of a particular kind that, while not a genre of literature all their own, have the power to inform and transform our relationship with God. I speak here of the many passages that feature people praying or that talk about prayer. Prayers feature in many narratives, prophetic books, epistles, and books of wisdom. Abraham prays, Samuel prays, Hannah prays, Jacob prays, Hagar prays, Job prays, Isaiah prays, Jeremiah prays, Moses prays, Miriam prays, Deborah prays, King David prays, the apostle Paul prays, Elizabeth prays, Mary prays, and, of course, Jesus prays.

And we can learn from their prayers.

We even have a whole book of the Bible that consists of prayers: The Book of Psalms. These 150 chapters of praise, confession, lament, and petition are themselves enough to keep us busy learning about prayer.

Jesus, of course, teaches his disciples to pray by giving them the words of The Lord’s Prayer. He also instructs his disciples about prayer in other ways.

So over the next few posts, I want to suggest three ways we can learn about prayer from Scripture.

The first is this: we learn about the God to whom we pray. This is no small thing. Often when our prayers are hindered by confusion or doubt or worry, it’s in part because we fail to grasp the character of the God of Scripture. If we are worried that God is angry or disappointed with us, this will affect the manner of our prayers. If we think that God doesn’t care about the everyday details of our lives, we will likely avoid praying altogether or pray without any assurance that God hears us.

To take one basic example, look at the prayer of praise and thanksgiving of Psalm 136:1:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His faithful love endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

Here we see that God is good. His goodness is a reason for gratitude, because his goodness means, in part, that he seeks our good. He is therefore trustworthy. His will towards us is not ambivalent, much less malevolent; rather, he looks upon us with love.

And not only that, but he embodies faithful love. That is, his love is not dependent on us or our circumstances. It’s a reliable, consistent love, not the sort that’s fickle or subject to the whims of the moment.

Think about praying while knowing these things about God. Here is a God who you can trust with the deepest cries and longings of your heart. He cares for you. Such truths ought to instill our prayers with confidence. Knowing that God is good and loving ought to open us up to prayer. Think about what the apostle Peter says:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.

1 Peter 5:6-7

However, if the picture of God in our heart and mind ever begins to drift away from these foundational aspects of his character–his love and goodness–what would happen to our prayers? Maybe we would find ourselves asking: “Will God listen to my prayers?” “Does he really care about me?” Who God is matters to how we pray.

But there’s more. Scripture also reveals that Christian prayer is trinitarian in nature. That is, we pray not to some vague, non-descript God, but to the God who reveals himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. We see this, for instance, in the prayers of the apostle Paul:

For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit,  and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19

All three Persons of the trinitarian Godhead participate in our prayers. And we can’t fully understand what it means to pray without knowing God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We pray to the Father in the name of the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our God is irreducibly personal. He is intrinsically relational. He is not the impersonal Force of Star Wars.

The basic Old Testament affirmations of God’s goodness and faithful love (that we see above in Psalm 136:1) also come to full flower in passages such as the one from Ephesians. Here Paul expresses in a beautiful, profound way that we can know and experience the fullness of God’s love only through the Son; and that it is the Holy Spirit who makes that love real to us.

So when you and I pray, we pray to a personal, relational God who is actively seeking our good, who seeks to pour out and make known his love for us, and who wants his love and goodness to be the driving force of our prayers for ourselves and for others.

In other words, we don’t have to convince, persuade, or manipulate God to listen to us. He is firmly predisposed to listen. He is the listening God. He is infinitely inclined to listen; and the more this reality takes root in our hearts, the more inclined to pray we will be.

This leads us to a third way we learn about God from the prayers in the Bible. Scripture shows us the good news that God seeks to have intimate fellowship, a genuine relationship, with us.

Consider the language of Genesis 3:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.

Genesis 3:8

Though this happened after the man and his wife had listened to the serpent, the portrait of God here is of one who seeks out human beings. He came to the man and woman even after they had disobeyed him. Not even their sin would ultimately keep God from graciously reaching out.

This is also true for us. Sometimes we think that because of stuff we’ve done, things for which we feel ashamed or embarrassed, that we’ve cut ourselves off from God. Now, in a sense that is the case. Sin breaks our fellowship with God. It becomes an obstacle to the intimacy he seeks to have with us. Yet just as God reached out to the man and woman in Genesis, he also reaches out to us. In the Scriptures we also see that through the good news of Jesus God makes possible the restoration of this fellowship.

When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.

Galatians 4:4-7

Based on what Paul tells us here, God the Father sent God the Son into the world precisely in order for us to receive God the Spirit so we could have this most intimate and personal of relationships with the very One who created us and sustains us.

So, in other words, God redeems us through Christ and he does this so that we might be adopted as sons (and daughters) and enter into a profoundly personal relationship with him. The Holy Spirit prompts us to cry out to him as a child would to a loving, reliable parent.

Notice Paul says that those who receive the Spirit will cry out Abba! Father! The term Abba is an Aramaic term for Father that has a much more informal, personal tone, like “Daddy” or “Papa.” It is the word for Father that Jesus uses when he is in the Garden of Gethsemane before going to the pain and humiliation of the cross: And he said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.”

Put another way, being adopted as sons and daughters of God the Father means sharing in the intimacy that exists between the Father and the Son through the Spirit.

Imagine trying to pray without the knowledge that God is good and loving, that he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that he even entered his own creation to restore the relationship he has always intended us to have with him.

Here’s the thing: we needn’t imagine such a scenario. Because our prayer can rest on the bedrock of what Scripture teaches us about him. This is the good news.

And this is why our understanding of God needs to be the foundation for our prayer.

Next time I’m going to look at how in Scripture we learn what we are to pray about.

What Church Is and Isn’t (Sort Of)

What is church?

I suppose there are thousands of answers to that question. It’s an institution that’s been around for roughly two millennia. There is a bewildering variety of denominations and variations of ecclesiastical communities. Needless to say, every one and their pastor has an opinion. Some hold their views loosely; others adamantly; and still others, vehemently.

Even so, I want to suggest a few things church is not (sort of!). Far from exhaustive, my suggestions merely play off some common misunderstandings of church. Nothing I say here is being said dogmatically.

Before I get into my suggestions, I think it’s important to point out that many reduce church to its ABCs: attendance, buildings, and cash. It’s a convenient acronym of sorts, if nothing else. But obviously it looks mostly at the surface, the measurables, and the immediate. It misses much, yet reveals much as well.

But what are my suggestions? Here’s my first.

The church is about people not programs.

Most congregations have various regular activities that take place regularly: Bible studies, Sunday School, youth groups, home groups, VBS, etc. The Sunday morning worship service(s) is often viewed as the core or centre of church activity. All good stuff. Mostly.

I remember being in a ministry seminar where the person leading said something to the effect that programs are essentially a reason to get people in the same room.

I like it.

But of course the people getting together in the same space, if the purpose is discipleship, have to have something to do. Hence, programs.

At the same time, programs can outlive their usefulness. Keeping a program running when it’s run out of gas and goals can leave volunteers weary and discouraged. Even though it’s often harder to stop a program than start one, it can sometimes be an act of wisdom and mercy to pull the plug.

The church is about engagement not attendance.

More butts in the pews—it’s what most pastors dream of (and think they’re supposed to) strive towards. In these days of declining churches and struggling congregations, those who’ve attended for years and even decades are no doubt confused and discouraged by the absence of upcoming generations in many a sanctuary.

You can have a full sanctuary with little actual engagement. You can also have a smaller group of people who are more deeply engaged and motivated to grow.

It’s not necessarily about numbers. So without discounting numbers altogether, they can be deceiving. That said, without some people, it’s hard to have church! It’s just as easy to dismiss the importance of trying to engage new people—thereby shirking our evangelistic responsibility—by pointing out the superficiality of ecclesiastical arithmetic.

Some have commented that the numerical decline in churches simply represents the elimination of the “mushy middle,” those who used to attend out of a sense of obligation. Those remaining are the truly committed.

Perhaps. But we still are called to engage others and to be engaged ourselves with intentional spiritual community.

Last, the church is a holy people not a holy place.

Or to put it another, more obvious, way: the church is not the building. We don’t go to church; we are the church.

This almost goes without saying, and much of time I think we (sort of) get it. But our language can betray us. Words matter. Our vocabulary reveals.

We’re being built into a spiritual house, the Scriptures tell us. Brick by brick. All of the building language from the Old Testament is used of people—the gathered family of God—in the New Testament. Peter puts it this way:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:4–5

We need one another. There’s a blessed mutuality at work in the church, where each one brings their particular gifts and passions. And God assembles us into a holy place.

And, yes, we still have to meet somewhere. Churches meet in coffee shops, school auditoriums, movie theatres, homes, and, of course, church buildings. Whether it’s better for a group of Christians to rent or lease a space or have one all their own, that’s a matter of legitimate debate.

But there’s no such thing as a holy place apart from a holy people.

So there you are. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t. That’s ok. My point is simply to say that at the heart of what the church is are relationships: between us and God, between individual believers, and between believers and their surrounding community.

Indeed, God himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is relationship. It makes sense to me, then, if that’s what the church is all about too.