Now, please don’t get defensive; I really don’t either and was reminded of this again recently.
I was reviewing Chapter 11 of a very good book that CCF uses for mentoring. The memory verse for this chapter about the church is: “I (David) rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1. So, extra points for enthusiasm but minus points for putting the church (or synagogue in this case) in a specific location. The visible church has manifestations in local congregations but local churches and denominations are not the church.
One good verse to describe the universal church is: “Woman”, Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain (Samaria) nor in Jerusalem.” (John 4:21). The ekklesia (ἐκκλησία, Gk) are the called-out ones and the universal church does not have headquarters anywhere in the world. It consists of believers from the past, present, and future. How would the gospel spread if we saw people as potential members of the future church?
Now let’s talk numbers: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) Rough estimates put the number of Christ-followers at 2.2 billion of the 7.6 billion people in the world or 28%. Many of these people live outside Rhode Island. This shows that there is still much to do in terms of spreading the gospel, but it also show how little the church knows about itself. It is estimated that there are more believers today than all previous generations combined. To put this in perspective, if you knew 2000 believers, you would only know about 2 people in a million of those who are alive today.
And then there are the languages and cultures described in Revelation 7:9. The average new believer is coming to faith in Asia, Africa or South America. So they speak Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, Arabic or something other than English. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit other parts of the church in England, France, Columbia, Turkey and the UAE. So what do we have in common with people who don’t look like us, talk like us or worship like us? Only the basics: belief and trust in God’s Word, God’s Son, God’s Spirit, and God’s agape love.
So you don’t know church and neither do I. But someday in a couple thousand years we will begin to understand this amazing family that our Father and Savior have put together for us to be a part of.