What is the Church? (Part 1)

April 12, 2018

By Erin Bird

In 2008, Waverly, Iowa experienced a 500-year flood. Over 90 homes were lost, as were several buildings. Two of those buildings belonged to churches: St. Mary's Catholic Church and Peace United Church of Christ. Yet no one today says, "those churches were destroyed," because each church family built new facilities. Their old buildings may have been eliminated by the flood, but each church lived on.

Why am I talking about the buildings of Peace and St. Mary's? Because their story helps demonstrate that the Church is not a building; the Church is people.

Church Defined

This coming Sunday is our last of seven Sundays at Shell Rock Elementary School. The following week (April 22) will be our first in Droste Hall at the Bremer County Fairgrounds. As you know, this brings a welcome change: no more set-up and tear-down every Sunday morning (for now!). 😁

However, there is also a risk with this change. 😳 Setting up every week in rented facilities has reminded us that the Church is not a building. But now that we (sort of) will have our "own" building, we can potentially make the same mistake that churches all around the the world make: treat church as an institution rather than a movement.

That's why, as I said last week, I want to take a few weeks here in the News & Notes to look at Riverwood's definition of church to help us avoid slipping in our understanding of God's design for His Church.

So here is our definition:

The Church is the redeemed people of God living on mission together under the headship of Jesus to live out the implications of the Gospel.

This week we are going to look at the first phrase: "the redeemed people of God."

Wait, What is the Church?

As stated above, we often think of church as a building. We tend to talk about the structure that a church family uses, as if THAT is the church. But the church is not a building - it is a people.

However, it's not just any group of people. For example, I am part of the Exchange Club in Waverly, and even though we open our meetings in prayer, no one would claim it is a church. Why not? Because the focus of the Exchange Club's meetings is not worshipping God.

The Church is "the redeemed people of God," and their common ground is that they have been given grace and faith to choose to follow Jesus and allow Him to transform them into something new. This changes everything about the identity of those who are part of the Church. Those in the Church know it is about who they are in Jesus, not what they do or where they meet. This also means the Church doesn't just have one "set of clothes." The Church can be a house church, a mega-church, a small church, an urban church, a country church, or any other such "church" because they gather in the name of Jesus.

Additionally, while the Church is the redeemed people of God, it does not mean a church can't welcome in those who don't follow Jesus yet. Just the opposite! Those who have been redeemed because of the gospel should be the first to warmly welcome those who don't know Christ because WE once were separated from God as well.

So no matter where Riverwood has our Sunday worship gatherings, whether it is in Shell Rock Elementary where we will set up one last time this Sunday or in Droste Hall where we will walk out on April 22 leaving everything up after we are done, we are the Church first and foremost because we are the redeemed people of God and God is working in us collectively as a church family.

Glad to be part of the redeemed people of God with you! Go and be the Church sharing the gospel and inviting others to follow Jesus. May the Lord lead your footsteps with grace and truth.

Erin Bird Lead Pastor - Riverwood Church

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Riverwood Church, Waverly Iowa

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