Here's a scenario:
Bob and Mike meet.
They soon discover a mutual interest in following Christ.
They decide that they should partner up and do this together.
So they meet regularly, bringing their wives and their kids all together to talk about Jesus.
They read their Bible. They praise God, often in song or poetry.
Over time, their gatherings grow and a few other friends and families begin to attend as well.
They don't write up a statement of faith or anything, but they never get into any weird, unorthodox stuff.
They begin a few traditions, a few standards (think: meeting every other Saturday afternoon, favoring discussion over a sermon, using recliners instead of pews, singing a capella because no one's a musician, no age division, laser lights, arm-wrestling, an occasional post-church stein-hoist). They've got a culture of sorts.
Maybe some of their customs and traditions and methods are unique, or even a little strange. So much so that it might not feel like church to a church-going outsider.
So what is this gathering? Is it a church? Is it the church?
What does it mean if we call Bob and Mike's as-yet-unnamed gatherings "church?"
We're past the point of assuming a church is a building, right? Lots of churches start and meet in people's basements. We'll call their gatherings a church.
So if it's just a couple of dudes and some friends gathering weekly to follow Christ, unusual traditions and all... does this thing, suddenly a "church," immediately get lumped in with the rest of the church (or churches) as a sacred institution? Are they part of the Holy Priesthood, entrusted with the Great Commission, held accountable for all of its blessed finances and how they spend every penny? Holders of the talents while The King is away?
Is every church subject to scrutiny as a sacred institution, or can a church simply be a community of people seeking Christ with their own customs, much like any other earthly, human
community - chamber of commerce, moose lodge, Boy Scouts, sewing circle,
carving club - except focused on following Christ? Are there sacred churches and non-sacred ones? Where do you draw that line, and what separates them? Rigidly structured organization?
I ask these questions because I have often, in the past, been a bit of a church cynic. "Can't believe they spent money on that." "Why aren't they doing (insert thing I suddenly started thinking was deathly important while in college)?" "What's a "liturgy?" "Why is there no liturgy?" "They should really talk more about (insert thing they didn't talk about the week I was there.)"
I am beginning to think that maybe it's no big deal for a church to have some customs that I don't really identify with, or to lack some that I really do, or to use their money in ways that I wouldn't immediately think to, and simply trust that they probably know what they're doing and don't need me to get all teenage-angsty about it.
I suppose I pose those questions in defense of weird churches.
In the end, there are far more important things to consider about a church than how much money they put into their multimedia, or what the worship team is wearing. For example, what its members are doing the other six days of the week.