All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Since September I have written reflections on the name of this congregation. The official name is the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peace, which we usually shorten to Peace Lutheran Church. This article will be the 2nd to last in this series and I am focusing on the word: “Church.” Next month, the word “Lutheran” will conclude the series.
What is a “church?” I think we often associate the word “church” with the building or physical property of a congregation, but the New Testament understanding of church pre-dates any dedicated church buildings. The New Testament uses the Greek word Ecclesia for the community of Christ and it primarily refers to the assembly of believers. The passage from Acts above defines how the early communities of Christ saw the “church.” They had all things in common, they cared for each other, they broke bread (which is a code phrase for celebrating communion together), and they spent time in the temple praying and offering praise to God. The songwriter Jay Beech puts this definition in his song entitled “The Church Song” (he is also paraphrasing Luther):
The church it is the people, living out their lives.
Called, Enlightened, Sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.
We are the church, the body of our Lord.
We are all God’s children, and we have been restored!
You can go to worship, but you cannot go to church.
You can’t find a building that’s alive no matter how you search…..
Peace Lutheran Church is not the wonderful building at 303 N. Mulberry. The building is rather the wonderful facility where Peace Lutheran Church worships and learns and serves. Peace Lutheran Church is the people – the assembly of people who are the membership of this congregation. God calls the people of Peace to worship, to learn, to pray, to serve and to praise God on a regular basis.
When we celebrate Baptisms we ask the parents and sponsors to make some very specific promises. These promises are repeated and re-affirmed during confirmation. In other words, we have all made these promises before God: to live among God’s faithful people; to make a commitment to commune and worship regularly, to learn the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds and the 10 commandments, to regularly enter into the study of the Holy Scriptures, to proclaim Christ through word and deed by caring for others and working for justice and peace. This is the calling of the community of Christ – the church. This is our individual and our community calling. As we enter into a new year and a new decade – 2010 – may God empower us to reaffirm our baptismal and confirmation vows so that we might be strengthened for the work that Christ calls us to do: namely to be, as Luther said, “Little Christ’s” in the midst of our communities and lives.