What "The Church" Is Not

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus...also greet the church that is in their house. (Romans 16:3-5)

I have been a leader in our church for a number of years.  Our church owned a building that many people referred to as "the church".  A couple of years ago, after much pain, two or three "exoduses",  and subsequent searching the scriptures, we were convinced that it was God's will for us to change the way we "did church".  

We moved into a back room, sat on seating that was arranged in a circle, and increased our fellowship and participation by hundreds of percentage points.  We employ a shared leadership, whose goal it is to act as facilitators, as we seek to allow the Lord to be the head of the church and the director of the meetings.

While we weren't seeking to follow anybody's formula for church organization, we arrived at a format that is, by New Testament and contemporary delineation, a "house church".  We discovered a new freedom and joy that we had not known before.  And we discovered as well, that most of the problems of the past were gone because nobody any longer thinks of the building as "the church" nor any leader as "the pastor".  

There is a lot more I could say about this, but I wanted to share one experience that we had with another congregation that highlights the change in attitude and the freedom God has given us.  We have rented our facility to two other congregations: one meets on Saturday afternoon and the other meets on Sunday morning.  We have also rented our facility to a community theater group that uses the building up to seven days a week.  (We have no mortgage payment and our rental income covers our minimal expenses.)

Having a shared space has had its challenges, and we've all learned to live with them, and develop an understanding and compassion and humility in the process.  The following is an exchange of emails between a leader in one of the churches and myself.  (I've changed the names of others to protect their identity.)

Hi Gary,


I wanted to share a concern that I have over what I observed last night at church.

Apparently there was a fund raiser for Community Theater last night at the church. We had our regularly scheduled youth meeting last night as well. (We used the room where you have church as well as the kitchen for snacks.) While we were cleaning up from church and getting ready for youth meeting, folks from Community Theater were coming in to set up for the fund raiser. My concern is that while folks were still cleaning up from church and while we were preparing for youth meeting, guys were coming into the building with arm loads of Budweiser and other beer. I was shocked.

Love believes all things and hopes all things, so I believe and hope that this was done without your knowledge or endorsement. I don't believe that you would condone the inebriation of people within walls that were purchased with the tithes and offerings of fellow believers. Or for that matter, the inebriation of anyone regardless of location. That it occurred in front of our congregation and our youth group is deeply troubling and certainly didn't foster an afterglow of worship following our church service. It was quite a picture seeing folks walking out with Bibles in their hands and people with beer under their arms walking in.

This email is not an official response from Bible Fellowship but a deep concern I have as a fellow brother in Christ. I know that you desire to make everyone happy and to serve others. You have a big heart and love for your fellow man. But my observation of Community Theater is that they will continue to push boundaries. I think serving beer at church is going a little too far.

Again, I don't believe that you would condone such activity and believe that this was done without your knowledge. I hope that you will address this issue with Community Theater. We will all stand before God and give account for our stewardship one day and I wanted to make sure you knew what was going on so that you could take care of it.

As an aside, I want to thank you for the opportunity to worship here. Although we have had to make a lot of compromises because of Community Theater, it is good to have a roof over our heads and be able to assemble together. For that we are thankful.

Thanks in advance also for taking the time to consider my personal thoughts and concerns.  I love you Gary and pray for you.


Your brother in Christ,


And here is my response:


Thank you for your thoughtful note you sent to me.  The following is a personal response, which is, as yours was, not an "official response".  I would be happy to get together and talk with you in greater detail about this issue, for it seems that we are both fairly passionate about it.

I know that it is the cultural norm to call a place a "church", but the Bible knows nothing of such a "church".  So, I assume that you're referring to a place where a church gathers for meetings.  It is not a stretch to say that it is unbiblical to speak of the church as a building or to an activity as having church.  I do not mean to suggest that it is wrong to use the term church in these ways, it is simply outside of the biblical understanding of the use of the word.  Consider this scripture from Romans 16:3-5: Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus...also greet the church that is in their house.  Is the house called the "church"?  No, the church meets in the house.  

So, since this is clearly the truth, you should not be surprised that I do not identify as a "church" the building where your church, or any other church, meets.  Now some might respond that I am simply being technical or quibbling over words.  I tell you that words have meanings and especially the words that comprise the inspired writings.  I think too many in the church have become slovenly about their interpretation of the scriptures and it has led to bad theology and a return to the bondage from which Christ died set us to free.  

We have no responsibility to those who handed the building to us that is greater than our responsibility to the Lord.  So whatever people paid and however they raised the money to pay it, is not at issue.  In fact if they really cared about the money that they invested in the building they would not have walked away from it.  Yes, we care deeply about the stewardship of the facilities and funds with which we have been entrusted.  In fact we were, as a church, discussing today the sobering responsibility we have.

It is precisely because of this stewardship that we have welcomed Bible Fellowship, Neighborhood Church, and Community Theatre to use the facility.  As we have sought to communicate, we believe that God wants us to utilize this building as a community center, where we can graciously share the building God has given us.  It gives us great joy to know that three separate congregations can make use of the facility -— and we are convinced that God is pleased as well.  

Because we anticipate standing before our Lord and giving account for deeds done in the body, whether good or evil, we are pleased to allow Community Theatre to use our facility as well.  Yes, we have encountered problems from having multiple groups using the building, and we appreciate everyone's willingness to adjust and make it work for each group.  It would seem to be much nicer if each group had their own facilities, but I think God is pleased by what we are trying to do.  Thank you for being flexible.  

Regarding the consumption of alcohol on the premises...in my understanding there is a difference between consuming alcoholic drinks and becoming inebriated.  If we were to be made aware of drunkenness occurring on the premises, we would certainly have a discussion with the group leaders.  We would inform them that because of the exposure to liability we are not willing to allow such practices to take place on the premises.  I wasn't in attendance Saturday night, but I have been with the folks on several occasions when alcoholic drinks were being consumed, and I saw no evidence of drunkenness.  While I am not a consumer of alcoholic beverages, I am aware of no teaching in the scriptures that prohibits God's people from consuming them, or of allowing others to consume them in a building in which a church meets.

A truly great man of God, Joe Aldrich, (author of Lifestyle Evangelism), who just graduated into the Lord's presence last week, said this: "In order to reach the lost, if Jesus were with us today, he would have been seen frequenting the places where there were beer cans and poker chips."  I heartily concur.  So then, rather than being aghast at the news that people were coming into the building with beer cans, I am grateful that God is giving us the privilege of welcoming into our building people who bring their own beer.  If Jesus was comfortable letting a prostitute anoint and kiss his feet, then I am comfortable letting people who drink beer know that they are welcome in our building.  

In fact I think it could be a source of joy for you to show love to the people coming into the building with their beer cans.  To let them know that Christians are not people who are ready to judge them for their actions, but rather to love them as they are, would surely be refreshing to most people outside the church.  Over the exit doors of the City Church building are found these words: "You are now entering the mission field."  Saturday night the mission field was entering the building as the church was exiting the building.  Rejoice!

When I stand at the Bema, I don't believe Christ will congratulate me for taking good care of the building in which the church met.  I do believe, however, that he may honor me for welcoming in people who needed the positive message of love and truth found in the Gospel -— even if they brought their beer in with them.  (Didn't Jesus make wine at a wedding?)  I believe that people who don't feel God's loving acceptance through his church will not be willing to listen to his wonderful words of truth.  

These words of Jesus motivate me to NEVER judge any person who is outside of Christ: If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47)  If Jesus, who knew the heart of every person he met, did not judge them, then how can I judge anyone?!

Thank you for your kind and encouraging words regarding the use of the building.  It gives us joy to share it.

Your brother,


P.S. While this was probably not the response you were looking for, it comes from a heart full of conviction that God wants us to love the lost.  Consider these scriptures:

And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of worldly wealth (church buildings?), so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9)

And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (Jude 22-23)

I hope that you also may consider the freedom and joy that could be yours by allowing the church to be the church, as is recorded for us in the scriptures.

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