Scholars may argue about whether the same man wrote the Gospel of John and the Letters of John, but John 15 and 1 John 4 sound like two peas in a pod. John is trying to simplify the relationship with have with each other and with Jesus into two words. The words Abide and Love. I want to go one step further and simplify the whole church experience into this concept of Abiding Love. Church is where people support each other in abiding in the love of God, and where God’s spirit supports us in abiding in love with those close to us.
Did you know that the dictionary definition for church doesn’t contain the word love. It goes as follows: “Church is a particular Christian organization, typically one with its own clergy, buildings, and distinctive doctrines.” (Apple dictionary)
I don’t like this definition. Not only does it exclude the love that Jesus says will define us, it includes three institutional words: clergy, buildings, and doctrines. The trouble is that this is exactly how most people in the world around us see the church. In fact, it may be the way most church people view the Church. It may also be the reason most people today say they can be religious perfectly fine without the Church, thank you. This past week, less than 18% of Americans went to church.
Jesus defines his Church by how we love. Did I mention, that the one thing that separates the previous modern epoch from our current postmodern culture is this emphasis on relationships? For the last thousand years, we have been selling church as the place to go to hear a qualified (but often celibate) clergy-person preach, to be in a beautiful building (with an organ), and learn to the right doctrines (orthodox). What if we changed (The Church change?) And began speaking about entering into a discipleship formation process, which we call Church (with a capital ‘C’) and practice there in, love for each other and love for those who are hurting around us?
I think we need to redefine our church life to support the “abiding in love” that John and Jesus are talking about. In Reality Check 101 I offer this alternative definition that captures the spirit of John 15 and 1 John 4:
Church is a gathering of people for prayer, study, and worship,
who relate to each other and to the world as Christ desires.
Perhaps you can think of a way to add the words Abide and Love to this definition — but I think it implies their importance.