When Christians meet for the first time, the question most often asked is “where do you go to church?” I dread that question more than any other because the people who ask are usually shocked by my answer. I hope by the end of this column, to show the reader just how silly the question really is.
Since the time of Christ, the question has been asked in many ways. There was the woman at the well who asked Jesus about worship on Jacob’s mountain or in Jerusalem. Jesus’ reply made it clear that where we worship is no longer relevant, but who and how we worship (John 4:21-23). On another occasion, the disciples stopped a man from working miracles because he was not a member of their church. Clearly angered, Jesus said “don’t stop him – if he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally” (Mark 9:38-40).
So if where is not important and there are only the 2 sides in the conflict between light and darkness, can there be more than one church (Mark 3:25)? The answer to that question would seem to depend on perspective: God’s, or man’s. And since we are called to “deny ourselves” and follow Christ alone (Luke 9:23), only His perspective matters.
What has impressed me concerning the Church, is the Lord’s heart for unity as expressed in His prayer for all believers to be one with each other in the same way that He and the Father are one (John 17:20-23). In keeping with His desire for unity, Jesus commanded us to love each other (John 13:34-35) and when we have disputes to resolve them quickly (Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-17). Our oneness and love for each other lets the world see Jesus in us and shows them we are His disciples.
Sadly, division and opposition began cropping up in the church even before the New Testament was complete. To the church in Corinth Paul wrote that their gatherings did more harm than good because of disagreements between opposing groups (1 Corinthians 11:17-18). He also corrected them for boasting about whom they followed, whether Paul, Apollos, or Peter. Paul wrote that such boasts were carnal and sinful, and he admonished them to focus on God (1 Corinthians 1:12 and 3:4-7). Today, divisions are known by the sanitized name “denominations” where people profess religious brand-name loyalty to Calvin, Luther, Wesley, et al, and opposition has turned to competition between churches.
Are division and opposition any less carnal and sinful today than they were then?
From God’s perspective, there is just one church, and it is not a building that we “go to” (Acts 7:48 and 17:24). Rather, the church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23) which is people, what Peter calls “living stones”, and God is assembling us into a spiritual temple (1 Corinthians 3:11, 12:18 and 1 Peter 2:5). Instead of asking “which church do you go to”, we ought to recognize one another as temples of God in which His Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19) and wherever God brings any 2 or more of us together, church happens (Matthew 18:20).
The Biblical example for the church is cities and regions living for Christ in relational fellowship, hence the 9 letters of Paul and the 7 letters from Jesus in Revelation, which are addressed to all believers in a city or region. If Jesus were to write a letter to us, He would likely address it “to the Church in Clallam County” or “to My People on the Olympic Peninsula.” His message is clear; wherever we live, we are God’s children and we are brothers and sisters.
As for the original question “where do you go to church”, the answer is EVERYWHERE! Church happens in the aisles of a grocery store, in a café over pie and coffee, in the Laundromat, in homes and outdoors, because it is Christ who makes us the church, not where we meet.