A confusion of words can result in a lifetime of error. A misunderstanding of words can corrupt the intentions of God. The word “church” is one such word. People ask, “Where do you go to church?” “What kind of a church is it?”
The church is not an institution or the building on the corner. The church is people. The institution is the denomination, which adheres to certain rules and creeds that one must affirm to be a member. The building on the corner is just that, a building where the church meets. These distinctions, far from being a matter of semantics, are crucial for understanding of how we grow up in Christ who is the Head of the church.
I had the pleasure of being part of a wonderful church for almost 15 years. Because I already knew the church was not the building nor the institution I was able to survive and thrive. The people were the church to me and together we practiced our faith. Some of the people were very much like me as far as physical, mental, financial health. Others were not as fortunate. A very few shared my politics, many did not. All of us fit into the band of the church's stretchy arms. This stretching expanded my capacity to care, listen, and give. I saw the beauty of God’s design for the church, the Body of Christ, people using their giftedness to help each other “grow into the full measure of Christ.” During my time with this diverse church I grew phenomenally!
Unfortunately, because of the confusion of words noted above, often the institution elevates itself over the church because it thinks it is in fact the church. The rules and regulations are brought to bear. The elasticity, which marks God’s design for the church, has no place in the institution with with its’ neat wrapper of creeds, distinctives and rules of order. Instead of a rubber band stretching to include, the institution is more like a paper band around a pile of envelopes having little give. When my giftedness crossed creeds, the institution prevailed. It was a hard and sad time for all. A paper band can only stretch so far.