Saturday, September 12, 2015

WHAT IS A CHURCH?--by Linden Malki

    What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "church"?  In most cases, an image of a building comes to mind--a little country church with a steeple; a large cathedral, or a building you know personally.  It's a good thing to feel a connection with a place that you associate with worshiping and serving God, and to want to give it the best possible care--as long as the place itself does not become a distraction and idol between you and God. Cleaning the building can become a substitute for cleaning up your life and attitudes.

"Churches" do not necessarily need a building--the early church transitioned from groups of believers meeting in the Temple to meeting in homes, outdoor or community space, and even in underground spaces.  It was later, as the communities grew and became more socially acceptable that special buildings began to be built. As the church spread into more areas, most of the young communities began life in homes, throughout the history of the church. My grandfather in Sweden became a member of an illegal house church, and was kicked out of his home by his father.  He later went on to build church buildings in Washington and Oregon in sawmill towns he built, which are still in use.  There are still places in today's world where Christians meet in secret places, but it is interesting that they do feel the need to meet and worship as congregations.

The other extreme is the idea that one doesn't need a church to be a Christian.   I recall a major political figure some years ago who said that he felt he could worship just as well on a horse in the mountains as in a church (but still promoted school prayer.) Yes, you can feel the presence of God in the beautiful places He has made, but there are things you miss out on. Church communities, like any human group, have stresses and strains because we are human, but a healthy Christian community has the Spirit which works to make us more than human. Looking at the earliest church, there are several things that are still being done that can only be done in community (not necessarily in a special building)--communion, which was commonly held in homes, and baptism, which requires at least two people--and usually has the added significance of welcoming the new believer into the community.

Calvary Baptist Church (now NorthPoint Christian Fellowship) wasn't born in a church building. The organizational beginning was a group of concerned Christians who met in the basement of the local YMCA to commit themselves to becoming a church community, 90 years ago next month.  Over the next few years, they met in several other local facilities before settling in a church building at 19th and E streets. When that building was felt to be an inadequate space for their ministry, they built the original sanctuary building on Sierra Way, dedicated in 1964. (The only building on the property before that was the quadraplex building on the north edge of the property, which was remodeled into offices and educational space. )  That was followed by the Children's Building, then Fellowship Hall, the modular building on the east side behind the Children's Building, and the Infant Center, built with the school that was on campus for some years.

The Sierra Way property is a beautiful church, dedicated to the service of God.  This doesn't mean that it has escaped the attention of forces opposed to this ideal. We have had the sanctuary fire, the hassle of rebuilding, the financial stresses of the fire insurance company's bankruptcy, and the financial issues at the school that resulted in its closure. Now, after five years of rebuilding our community at the Elks Lodge, we are back at Sierra Way, seeking to use this facility for His glory, not ours.

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