Wednesday, 03 March 2021 06:00

Week 1: The Church in Space and Time

Written by Jesse Neustadter

In raising my children, I have tried to steer clear of talking about the church as a place to go or a time to meet. But it is so challenging to get away from thinking and talking about the church in these ways.

My girls love to “go to church,” which is a very good thing. I always want them to think and feel positively about the church. But I subtly correct them when they say something like, “Oh there’s the church,” as we drive by the church building. I gently challenge them when they say, “It’s Sunday, it’s time to go to church.” I correct them because the church is not a physical building. The church is not a set time of the week. The church is not confined to a specific space or time.

Those who walk with Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are the church. The Apostle Peter says that we are “like living stones” who are “being built up as a spiritual house.” The church is not a physical building; it is a spiritual building comprised of people, of “living stones.” The vitality of the church does not depend on the condition of its physical space. The true life of the church is found in Spirit-infused “stones,” built upon the Cornerstone, who is Christ. A “church” could have the best physical facilities in the world, but if those facilities are empty, not inhabited by “living stones,” then they are worthless. On the other hand, a church without facilities, but comprised of “living stones,” can still thrive in her purpose, identity, and life together.

Because the church is people, not a physical building or the hour set aside to gather each week, I don’t want to overstate the importance of space and time. But I also don’t want to understate these things. There is tremendous value in setting aside space and time for the purpose of worship. Each week, as the church gathers in space and time, we encourage one another; we confess to one another and correct one another; we join our voices together in song; we submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word; we remember and proclaim the Jesus’s death until he comes again. As we do life together with one another, in space and time, we are reminded of our individual identities as image bearers of the Triune God, the God whose very nature as three persons, perfectly and flawlessly interconnected, reveals the significance of interpersonal relationships.

At this current time, the pandemic has disrupted many of our normal patterns of life, including how we do church. During this season, I do not worry as much about turning the space and time of the church into an idol or a legalistic rule, as many of us have done in the past. I worry that we might lose the rhythms of church life that help to shape us and form us as followers of Jesus. The rhythms and patterns of our lives have the tremendous ability to reinforce who we are and shape who we will become.

Philosopher James K.A. Smith argues persuasively that rhythms and patterns of behavior, as they develop into habits, are simultaneously shaped by our loves and shapers of our loves. When we develop the habits of life together as the church in space and time, we are shaped and formed in the rhythms of discipleship imbibed in the life of the church. Andy Crouch, in a similar vein, writes of how our “gestures” towards life and culture, as they are reinforced through habit, become our “postures.” When my child falls and hurts his knee, my “gesture” of stooping down to tend to his pain, when consistently done through the years, inevitably becomes my “posture” of love towards my children. My “gesture” of selfless, humble, and holy engagement in the life of the church in time and space carried out over weeks and months and years and decades will become my “posture” of deeply rooted love.

When patterns and rhythms and habits are broken, when we lose our sense of space and time as a church, we will inevitably be shaped and formed by other things. We will likely begin to “conform to the patterns of this world” (Rom 12:2). Let us lean into the rhythms of the church, knowing that, while the church is not defined by the externals of space and time, these things play a critical role in helping us become mature and fully formed disciples of Jesus.

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More in this category: Week 2: Shattered and Scattered »

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