Church is not a building you go to
William “Billy” Sunday’s famous line that “Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile” is still as true now as it was back in the early part of the Twentieth Century, and it is a principle with deep scriptural support. The Church is not the physical building, but the spiritual one.
The apostle Peter affirmed this in writing: “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…” (1 Peter 2:5), and the author of the book of Hebrews likewise tells us: “But Christ is faithful as the Son over God's house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (Hebrews 3:6).
Confusing the physical building with the spiritual building and its mission can lead to problems when resources and time are focused on the physical place we worship rather than the job the worship calls us to do. A church building may be a nice structure, with beautiful stained glass windows, but the Spirit of God does not work through buildings. A way to test our own relationship with that truth is to ask ourselves, rather than saying “Today is the day we go to church,” how natural is it to say “Today is the day the Church goes to our building.”
Church is not a denomination you join
The famous pastor and writer A. W. Tozer was fond of saying that “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.” We can apply this truth to the understanding that the Church of God is not a denomination – no matter how large (or exclusively small). We must frequently remind ourselves that not all Christians are in any one denomination, and not everyone in any denomination is a Christian.
We have only to read the book of Acts to see that even the earliest Church had “denominations” – we read of factions which required circumcision and those who did not, groups that taught all aspects of the law of Moses and those who did not – yet they are all said to have been part of the Church.
For most of us this may not be an issue. But many Christians do shy away from fellowship with those who do not agree with them on all points of doctrine. And sometimes the division is even within denominations. It is not entirely uncommon for congregations to sometimes focus on their own needs and programs rather than on the bigger picture of what is being done nationally and worldwide. In either case, it can be helpful for us all to think of the Church more broadly.
Church is not a social activity you participate in
In the famous words of American basketball player and coach John Wooden, we should “Never mistake activity for achievement,” and unless we see the Church as something very distinct from church activities, we can faithfully participate in socials, campouts, sing-alongs, movie nights and all kinds of other activities without ever having fulfilled the purpose of the Church in our lives. As Christian writer Thom Rainer puts it in an article discussing activity-driven churches: “Many churches are busy, probably too busy. Church calendars fill quickly with a myriad of programs and activities. While no individual activity may be problematic, the presence of so many options can be” (Seven Problems with an Activity-Driven Church).
We all understand that fellowship is an integral part of what the Church is all about, but an endless stream of activities replaces real fellowship with activities having their own focus, and that can be self-defeating for any congregation. Among his seven points Rainer reminds us that activity is not biblical purpose, that busyness can take us away from connecting with other believers and non-believers. A congregation that is too busy can hurt families, and an activity-driven church often has no real presence in the community.
These are all things we should think about at times. It is vital that every Christian understand that activities are not really church any more than buildings or individual denominations are. We are called to a community that far exceeds any and all of these things.