Entries Tagged as ''

“Here’s the Church, and Here’s the People …”

This morning I was praying for a friend of mine who has recently been called as the pastor of a local church in downtown Durham. The church was a once-thriving congregation that is now nearly dead–about 40 active members, all senior citizens. Interestingly, FBC Durham planted this sister congregation about 100 years ago, and now we are sending them a new pastor, as well as 3 or 4 other young families. I believe it is going to be exciting for both churches to see what God is doing in this whole situation.

As I was praying, I thanked God that he sent my friend to a congregation that already has a nice church, by which I meant a nice building. I immediately realized my mistake and was a little embarrassed to be a Baptist historian confusing the "church" with the "building," but there I was and the deed was done. I am reminded of the old song that goes "here's the church, and here's the steeple, open up, and there's the people." It's a cute little song, but it paints a very inaccurate picture. 

Any good Baptist (and most Protestants) know that the church is the people, and not the facilities, but I suspect I am not the only one who sometimes refers to the property as the "church" rather than the people who make up the church. We often say things like, "I am going to church," when what we mean is, "I am meeting to worship with the rest of the church." Or, "boy, the church sure looks pretty," when what we mean is, "boy, the building where the church meets sure looks pretty." It is an all too common habit.

Interestingly, it was not always this way. Many of the earliest English dissenters, including Baptists, did not refer to their buildings (if they had one) as "churches" but rather called them "meeting houses." This nomenclature was carried over into colonial America. As recently as the mid-1800's Baptists associations would note in their minutes that they had met at the meeting house of the Burnt Hickory Church. The obvious implications of this language is that the building is not the church, but rather it is the facility where the church gathers for corporate worship and where the local association gathered for their meeting. I think it is a more biblical way to refer to our buildings.

So I am recommitting myself to being deliberate in the language I use to describe my local church. We happen to own a lovely building, which is located at 414 Cleveland Street in downtown Durham. And every Lord's Day, the First Baptist Church of Durham gathers together at our building and worships together.