We use the word “church” in so many different ways that sometimes it becomes quite confusing. When we say we are “going to church” we could mean we are meeting with others to worship God, or that we are just going to the building. Sometimes we use the word church to mean a denomination, and other times we use it to mean the wider body of Christ of which all believers are part. Sadly, none of these ways of using the word are from the Bible. In the New Testament the word we translate “church” is ekklesia, which means a public gathering, assembly or meeting. Never throughout the New Testament does ekklesia refer to a building; it only always refers to people.
Nevertheless buildings are important. While many churches exist without a building, they can serve a useful function. For Hobart Baptist our buildings help us go about the ministry God has called us to. What is more, did you know that our buildings are used seven days a week? Many other groups find our buildings helpful too. From time to time, for many reasons, churches need to develop their buildings. These may include the buildings being too big or too small, they could be falling down or crumbling, or often they are wrongly designed for today’s church or community needs.
Hobart Baptist Church is in the middle of a process of dreaming about how we might develop and use our buildings to help us in our ministry both now and in the future. When we began the journey nearly two years ago we were just looking at upgrading the kitchen and having meeting rooms with appropriate technology, but since then the vision has grown and we are now in serious discussions with the owners of neighbouring properties about how we might do something quite large together. The church has appointed a taskforce to work with the interested parties to work out what is possible. We are aware that any development needs to reflect and to speak of what the church stands for, what it wants to promote and how it can best be used in response to contemporary and future needs. So all our dreaming and discussion has taken place within the context of the mission of the church and our place in neighbourhood in mind. Everyone the taskforce talks to is very excited with our vision and are keen to see the vision realised. However, the Taskforce is very mindful that despite this truly amazing opportunity, “the church” is not a building, no matter how beautiful, spacious or practical it might be. The building only exists to serve God’s people who are the church, and it is important for us to constantly remember this.
“The building only exists to serve God’s people who are the church, and it is important for us to constantly remember this.”
That, however, doesn’t take away the reality that the Taskforce is at a very important stage in our discussions and we as a congregation are praying earnestly. A full update will be given at our church meeting in April, but in the meantime we will be praying that God will oversee the process and that a shared understanding on how to proceed will be approved by all the respective parties. We are looking forward to all that happens as Hobart Baptist Church charts its course into the future, with our great God at the helm. Stephen L Baxter
The Church comes in for a bit of bad press these days and many ask, “Why even bother with church?” There are many followers of Jesus who have given up on the church. Many have been hurt and tell painful stories of bad experiences with our institutionalized forms of Christianity.
I’ve heard it suggested, and I have no reason to doubt it, that across Hobart the largest grouping of people calling themselves Christians don’t belong to any church. And by church I don’t just mean our more traditional congregations but also home churches, pub churches, small groups, and so called ‘para’ church organisations. There are many people, Christians included, who just don’t bother with church anymore. They must have once, how else would they know Jesus? It is not easy to have a positive view of the Church in our community today. There is a strong secular voice emerging across Australia that paints Christians as freaks, fanatics, and frauds. It paints the church as the problem rather than an answer, and calls not for freedom of religion but freedom from religion. The impression one is left with is that the church is somewhat under siege, so why bother with it at all? Last week (Sunday January 15) I began a sermon series on the Church and suggested a number of reasons why we should bother, and we’ll explore them in subsequent weeks . . . but here are two of them: The Church is God’s idea:Matthew 16:18 records Jesus saying, “I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Jesus makes it clear that the Church is his not ours. The Church is not a human idea or construct but comes from the heart of God. Sure we have put our human touches to it, and at times made a complete mess of it, but at its core the Church belongs to God not us. (Here the word ‘church’ can get a little confusing because we use it in so many different ways. Church can mean worship services, buildings, denominations, the body of Christ, and so on. When Jesus uses the word ‘Churc’h here he is talking about the people that make up his Church in its many and various forms and places.) Jesus also makes it clear that the job of building the Church is not ours but his. That is not to say we are passive, we have work to do, yet it is sobering to remind ourselves that Jesus is the owner and builder of the Church. If we believe things are going badly then our first recourse is to direct the problem to him, not try and fix it all up by ourselves. Secondly, the Church is precious: In his letter to the church in Ephesus, in a section about marriage Paul makes the point that “Christ loves the Church and gave himself for it” (5:25). Elsewhere he says, “You have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). The Church is so precious that the eternal son of God was willing to become a human being and suffer the agonies of the cross and death for the sake of the Church. In other words, in giving up his heavenly riches, Christ made it possible for the Church to share in those riches. That makes the Church the most precious thing on earth. This may be a bit hard for us to fathom, especially those of us who have been hurt in our churches, and it challenges our attitudes towards the church. Doesn’t it? What these two points highlight for us is that being part of God’s Church is not really an option. In fact, being part of God’s Church is part of God’s acceptance of me. Our forms of church may vary from time to time and from place to place, but even so, when I was rescued by Jesus I was saved into the Church and its local expression. The idea that I was saved to be a solitary Christian was never in God’s mind. In fact, a person who follows Jesus but is not part of church is like a baby born in an orphanage. They are certainly a human being and a part of the human race, but it was never God’s intention that any child should live outside of family. Jesus died for the Church and despite its faults and failings loves it immensely. There are many reasons why we should bother with church, I’ve named just two, but ultimately it is because Jesus loves the Church. Do you? Stephen L Baxter