The Glorious Church

It has been almost five years now since a group of us started meeting weekly in a house in one of the suburbs of Bloemfontein.

We have never had a name or the need for one. In fact, we have been highly suspicious of church names since the outset (See related blog posts here and here).

Recently I decided to do a blog for our fellowship, and so I was faced with the dilemma of a name. There was only one that I could truly embrace, that accurately reflected what I had come to learn and believe about the glorious church of Jesus Christ over the past 3 decades of my life: The church’s name is… The Church.

Of course I mean “Church” in the sense of the Biblical “Ekklesia”, that is, the “Assembly” or “Gathered Community”. I certainly do not mean it in any one of the other ways sources like Webster define it, such as “a building for public Christian worship”, or “a religious service in such a building”, or “a Christian denomination”.

Some of us appear to have a need to read more into this word than what the New Testament means by it. The error is quite understandable. Apart from the words that we use on this planet to speak about the Godhead, it is the single richest word in existence. Of course such a word calls for scrutiny and exploration. Of course it seeks an expression that will truly reveal its essence. Of course it calls for all kinds of synonyms.

But in doing so we need to go deeper, not wider. Such a word can never be expanded. It has to be expounded. And you are not doing so if you use adjectives like “First”, “St. John” or “Shekinah”. Even “Covenant” and “Grace” do more to detract from the glory of this word than add to it. If you choose to highlight one attribute associated with the Ekklesia you inevitably make the others fade into the background. Church names, like idols, have the habit of turning on you in the end.

There are great synonyms in Scriptures for the Ekklesia, such as “the wife of the Lamb”, “temple”, “body” and so on. These will take you deeper, not wider, and they should be reserved for that purpose. There are others, too, and even if you manage to fit all of them on the sign outside your building, they will still mean nothing to the casual observer. To truly understand something of the church’s nature requires the best part of a lifetime, which means you can save yourself the trouble of trying to provide a synopsis by cramming a selection of her attributes into a name.

There is no name more beautiful to me than my wife’s, for it represents to me all that she is. She need not be called The First Glorious Revien Beautiful Wife Mother Lover of the Cedars of Lebanon (yes, she descends from there), for I know her to be all those things. I may whisper them to her, but I have no need to see them printed in her passport. This knowledge is reserved for those who are close to her.

Less is more, we often say, and this is truer about the name of the church than most anything else. Writers know that one of the golden rules of their trade is to never overstate the obvious. In fact, you should hardly ever state anything that your readers can figure out for themselves. Don’t preempt the mystery. Don’t rob them from the exhilaration of the quest and the glow of discovery. Refrain from the temptation to mediate the revelation. Trust God’s Spirit to decode their parables.

And so we adopted the only naming convention that we can find in the Bible. We called ourselves “The Church in Bloemfontein”, followed by the street address of the house where we meet. We make it very clear on our blog that the name does not belong to us but to the body of Christ in Bloemfontein, that we are not the only church in Bloemfontein and certainly not more officially so than any other one of the local churches. The only distinction is the address, which is part of our name for the sake of maintaining the principle of locality.

We’re challenging others who meet like us to do the same, although we certainly won’t split hairs about it.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “The Glorious Church

  1. david bolton May 1, 2012 / 11:49 am

    WOW! This is excellent! If we would just guard how we speak about the church, and stop using un-, non-, anti- and extra- biblical words and expressions when we talk about her, we would tear down some mighty strongholds that keep the church from being who she is and is meant to be.

    As an encouragement, I thought I’d share a quote out of the book “The Torch of the Testimony”, by John W. Kennedy:, pg.241:

    “Throughout the centuries, God’s people who have sought fellowship only around Christ have struggled for namelessness.Consistently they have denied the name of some man or other label which has been attached to them, desiring only that they should be known as Christians, or brethren, or by such other simple designation as might find warrant in Scripture. It has always appeared to be a losing battle, and to some it may appear unimportant, yet when a company of believers has been willing to accept a name, it has also accepted the limitations that have gone with it. The struggle for namelessness is not an insignificant factor in the struggle of the church for its existence.”

    This was an excellent post! “Deeper, not wider!” Amen!

    • naturalchurch May 1, 2012 / 1:39 pm

      Thanks for the comment, David. That is a most excellent and extremely appropriate quote. To my shame I must admit that I never made it to page 241 of Kennedy’s book. I started reading it for the 2nd time a few months ago, enjoyed it immensely, but got sidetracked into other books yet again… (A serial habit of mine). I’m going right back to it. Thanks.

  2. Jim Puntney (@JimPuntney) May 1, 2012 / 12:00 pm

    I was moved when you used the analogy of your wife’s name, and compared this to “the church”.

    Some have an impact a mile wide and an inch deep, when the opposite is the intent.

    • naturalchurch May 1, 2012 / 1:58 pm

      I agree. It seems to be the curse of the age, unfortunately.

  3. Josh May 1, 2012 / 4:26 pm

    I’m new to your blog. Let me just say how thankful I am that i stumbled across it. I look forward to making this a daily stop.

    GOOD STUFF!!!

    In the Matchless name of Jesus,
    Josh

  4. a God-man in Christ May 2, 2012 / 1:50 pm

    This is true, the church is simply “the church”. To take any other name except the name of Christ can even be considered “spiritual adultery” – we are “cheating” on Christ, our husband. The trend of the age today requires you to identify yourself with one of the many de-nominations out there – but, just as in the Old Testament, God’s purpose can be fulfilled only with those who pay the price to return to the ground of oneness! It is so releasing and so sweet to be just simply the church!

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