If you are a Jesus-follower, you know that it's incredibly important to know what Jesus said about any given topic. So one of the most interesting things when we start thinking about the church and what Jesus intended it to be is this disturbing fact: Jesus said almost nothing about the church.
Jesus mentions the word "church" (Greek, "ekklesia") in exactly two verses -- in Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:17 (where he uses the word twice). Three times in the four gospels the word "church" appears.
So Jesus didn't talk much about the church. He didn't lay out a template for what churches should look like. He didn't describe a system for organizing or governing churches. He didn't say what color the carpet should be, how the budget should be structured, or what leadership structures ought to look like. These, and a dozen other issues like them, are responsible for most of our church struggles and conflicts today. We argue and split churches over all these things because we believe that there is a right and wrong way to do these things.
Granted, there are a few nods toward issues of church leadership in the rest of the New Testament outside the four gospels, especially in some of Paul's letters. But if the issues by which our churches rise and fall are so important, shouldn't Jesus have at least mentioned them?
Well. If Jesus didn't talk about the church, what did he talk about?
Read the gospels, and Jesus' main idea comes really clear. Obviously clear. He started out his ministry preaching about this main focus -- what he called "the kingdom of God." He told most of his parables about the kingdom of God. (In Matthew's gospel it's usually called "the kingdom of heaven" out of respect for his Jewish readers who didn't like to mention the name of God. But the idea is the same.) When Jesus gave his followers advice about what should be most important to them, he said they should "seek first the kingdom of God." (See Matthew 6:33 for that statement.) If you read the gospels and pay attention to what Jesus was really concerned about and what he actually said, you find he was much more interested in the kingdom of God than he was in the church. Jesus came and proclaimed the kingdom of God. He sent his followers out to proclaim the kingdom of God.
It has been said that Jesus told us to proclaim the kingdom, and instead, we created the church. That's a disturbing thought.
Now, we're going to unpack this idea of "the kingdom of God" a bit next post. But let me first say that there is much that the church is and does that is important and good and necessary and some of it's even biblical. But if we think the church is the point of Christianity, we've missed the point. At least we've missed Jesus' point. If we're about creating churches, we may be great at manufacturing an institution. We might be skilled at creating a religious system. We could possibly be near the mark, though it's hard to say. But we've missed Jesus' own words and actions.
That's a point worth pondering as we try to figure out what the church ought to be about. But like I said, in the next post, we'll be trying to get a handle on what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. (Or you could go read the gospels, which would probably be a way better use of your time than reading my blog. But then, I suppose you could do both.)