3.22.2017

Swarm of God

When I say the word “Church” what comes to mind? Here’s what I suspect,
  • For some people, the word calls to mind a building, a place where people go to worship.
  • For others it is an institutional structure, like the Southern Baptists, Roman Catholicism, or United Methodists.  
If you’re a serious student of the Bible though, you probably recognize these as understandable yet inaccurate definitions.  The church is actually a description of a group of people.  The original Greek word Ekklesia (an assembly, or a gathering) hints at no indication physical structure or formal organization. In fact, in the New Testament, Ekklesia is used to refer to not only to the church, but also the rioting crowd in Ephesus (Acts 19:20-41). I can hardly think of two things that are less alike than a worship assembly and rioting mob.


I think the common word that describes these disparate things points to a similarity that has been overlooked. It is an oversight which hinders our efforts to reproduce thriving church communities. That the  essential element of what makes a church is not the venue, the governing structure, or the order of worship, it's the people, and church less like a place we go and more like a thing we do.
  • When birds in large groups fly in hypnotic formation in search of food we call them a flock
  • When Antelope flee  and evade danger as a group we call them a herd
  • When Locusts  descend on crops en masse and strip them clean we call them a swarm
What triggers this collective behavior, and its purpose is different for each group but it is always a  living and active response. The group moves as a single body, they have collectively acquired a new identity.
Why do I think this has anything to do with the Church?  Because the New Testament is full of parallels. Paul refers to the church as a body.  And Jesus refers to his disciples as  Sheep who "Know the Shepherds voice".  Sheep are herding animals, and sheep are conditioned to come together as a flock at the sound of the Shepherd's voice.  This is an insight that both Luther and Calvin realized during the reformation. That the church is created and sustained when people hear the Word of God proclaimed. Because Jesus IS the Word of God.
Something happens when the word of God is proclaimed, a sorting. The church is an emergent property of the proclamation of the Word of God, and specifically the Word about Jesus. When this message is proclaimed some people accept it, but others reject it. 
  • Simeon prophesied over Jesus that he would be a sign that would be spoken against and reveal the contents of people's hearts.
  • John referred to Jesus as one carrying a winnowing fork separating the wheat from the chaff.
  • Jesus referred to himself one who brings a sword separating people from one another.
  • Paul says furthermore, that the church is the aroma of life to those who are saved but the stench of death to those who are perishing. 
I think you get the point. so in addition to birds, antelope, and locusts I would say that this. When people hear the Word and are drawn to the person of Jesus, we call that a church. And that is an encouraging thing.  It means that we don't have to be great strategizers, or skillful orators, or expert apologists and debaters to spread the Gospel and build the Church. We only need to be faithful and do our part. The rest will happen spontaneously. Talent and skill can and is used by God - but God gets a lot more done through the unnoticed work of normal people like you and I.

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