Have you ever really wondered just “What is the church?” The Greek word is ekklesia and is derived from a word that means “a calling out.” It is used over sixty times in the New Testament, but only three times in the Gospels. All three of these references are found in Matthew. They are; Matthew 16:18,and twice in Matthew 18:17. Probably the best known of these is Jesus’ response to Peter’s affirmation that he is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus then said: “And I tell you, you are Peter (Petros or Rocky in the Greek) and on this rock I will build my church.” [Matthew 16:16-18] Just what did Jesus mean and what is our understanding of the church?

Many of us think of the church as a building. We equate the church building with the church. The idea of sacred space is important. I admit that many times I go into the sanctuary to pray. I feel closer to God at the altar than I do anywhere else. Yet I know the building is not the church. I believe there is a thin line between caring for the building as we should and allowing the building to become an object of worship. When we are more concerned that the youth might scuff the floors, that the children might dirty the walls, that no outside groups can use the church because they might not treat it as well as we do, we have elevated the building to what is most important. We need to realize that the building is just a building and not “the church.”

Some of us think of the church as it organization, structure and form. In our denomination we think of Districts, Annual Conferences, Bishops and all the ministries that the United Methodist Church does. Let me say that I am proud to be a United Methodist. I believe our doctrine, structure and polity to be biblically based. In a practical sense our connectionalism allows us to do ministry in a much greater scale than any one congregation could possibly do. If you doubt this just check the number of missionaries, hospitals, collages, nursing homes, retirement centers and homes for children United Methodism supports world wide. Yet the church is more than that.

For me the question of what is the church may best be answered by an exercise I learned as a child. Put your hands together interlocking your fingers on the inside near your palms. Repeat after me “Here is the church.” Now extend your pinkie fingers upward and touch them together, saying, “Here is the steeple.” Now turn your hands over, after you have interlocked your pinkie fingers again, wiggle your fingers and say: “Now open the door and see the people.” The church is the people! Those “called out” of sin to be in communion with one another and with our Lord and Savior is indeed the church. More important than the building, more important than the structure and form, is the fellowship, care love and support of God’s people. That truly is the church!

I was privileged and bless to once more experience that love and support first hand during this Christmas Season. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love, gifts, prayers, cards and all the other expressions of support I received. It was a great Season and again I say “Thank You Church” and may God bless you is my prayer.