Every week, we’re invited to join the local American Lutheran missionary, Sarah, in her time of ministry to local middle and high school students called “Comfort Zone”. Recently I was talking to some of those students about the differences in our language, and we both noticed something interesting:
English: We have a church down the street from us.
Hungarian: We have a (templom) down the street from us.
English: I hope to see you at church Sunday morning!
Hungarian: I hope to see you at (gyülekezeti) Sunday morning!
English: The global Church is the body of Christ.
Hungarian: The global (egyház) is the body of Christ.
I could be completely wrong here – and if you know Hungarian please help a brother out. But from talking to the students, they were really surprised. One girl asked “So you use the word ‘church’ for all of these meanings??! How do others know what you are talking about?”
Boom. Just like that, she hit one of the major struggles of the American church (although I’d imagine it goes much farther than the English-speaking churches – language doesn’t fix it – just helps us understand it).
So often we go to church thinking that because we’re regularly inside a church we’re part of the Church (body of Christ). Over time, some have realized that issue and decided “Well, going to church doesn’t make you part of the Church. So I’m going to stop going to church, but focus on living as part of the Church.” But scripture tells us that is a bit like the hand saying “Connecting regularly to the arm doesn’t make me valuable to the body, I’m valuable to the body inherently. I’ll be just as valuable and secure in my identity as “hand” even if I don’t go where all the parts are gathered. I will go out and find other hands and we will do lots of handy things.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) (Careful though, regular church attendees – it’s just as dangerous to think we’re fulfilling our function just by being near. If I hold a severed finger in my hand, it’s still not very useful for the body.)
As the body of Christ, we are gathered regularly in the name of Jesus to worship and receive from the Word together. This happens in specifically located groups large and small all over the globe. We purposefully seek to build diverse (culturally, generationally, ethnically, etc.) communities united by the Love of God revealed in Jesus. We are sent out by that Love into our world as the body of Christ that exists to be the living presence of the Love of God (which was broken for the sake of the world). That is not an easy thing, and so we gather again regularly to encourage one another, pray together, and continue to re-orient our hearts, minds, and lives in this direction by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Even in Hungarian, that’s hard to summarize in a word. But recognizing the difference between the place we worship, the gathering of worship itself, and the global body of Christ is a great start.
The great thing is – no matter who you’ve been lately, God promises it is His power alone that transforms our identity. If you’re a hand that has been running around with only other hands lately, denying you needed those arms, legs, and eyes…there’s a place for you. If you’re a severed finger who’s been held by the hand every Sunday, or a few times a year – but the life of Jesus hasn’t been coursing through your veins – there’s a place for you. You don’t even have to wait until Sunday. Confess the emptiness of your self-identity and self-sustaining desires. Turn away from self-sufficiency. Turn toward Jesus and ask for His Love to begin transforming you as New Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Share your testimony with someone you know is a living part of the Church locally, and gather with them next week!
We’re so thankful for both the local body we’re a part of and the body of Christ we get to experience life as. May we each live this week encouraged by the global Church we’re part of, receiving/joining the Holy Spirit, and dependent on the life and guidance that comes from our head – Jesus Christ.
(I understand there are places in the world where folks are not free to “gather” for worship. May we remember them in our prayers, & never take for granted what they would often give their lives for.)