There's an interesting post over on Mike Bird's blog (euanggelion) about the church. It's called 'In praise of the visible church' and suggests that people who question institutional Christianity are engaging in 'a ridiculous cop-out'.
But I find myself confused over what it is that Mike is defending here because one of his favourite quotes on the church is from Rick Warren who says 'the church is the people, not the steeple'. I say a hearty amen to that. And so would many of the people engaged in debates over what he dismisses as 'churchless Christianity'.
The issue is not can you be a Christian without a church - I think Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship in community; the question is 'what kind of community constitutes church?' It seems to me that a lot of critics of emerging church are wedded to a view of church that owes much to the Victorian era and precious little to the New Testament.
I think a good question to ask about what we do in the name of church is this one: 'would Paul recognise our gatherings as church?' I suspect for the most part, he wouldn't.
Over the past couple of weeks some people have been asking where is the church around the area of St Paul's and Paternoster Square in the City of London? Some have offered the somewhat pat answer that of course the church is in the tents on the steps. That doesn't really address the question because to be church, a community has got to consciously be shaping itself around the life and values of Jesus.So maybe the answer to the question is along the lines that both the cathedral and the protesters offer some pointers to what church might be but neither actually embody it.
I'll be teaching on New Testament ecclesiology in a couple of weeks time and am really looking forward to teasing out some of these issues - not least the key one of the relationship between mission and church. I hope Mike will post again (rather more fully) on what he means by church.