Defining Church.

The Church is not a community of people who share a burden for the poor; or carry the same concerns over injustice; or seek to make a difference in their locality from foodbanks to youth clubs. All of these things are important of course but it doesn’t define what Church is. John brings that definition loud and clear. Church is not Church because they believe in God and come together once or twice a week. This is not Church for John.

But he is not casting stones on those who don’t agree with him. He writes as he does to ‘make our joy complete’. He is not complete unless this is resolved. There is a tinge of sadness. For John he imagines a world where the Church is defined in exactly the same way as he describes.

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:3-4)

Church is a group of people who come together over a shared experience and encounter of Jesus Christ. This is the central message of the word Koinonia/Fellowship. At Pentecost this bond was for the sharing of possessions and the Philippians did ‘partner’ in the gospel (Phil 1:5) but for John this Koinonia is definitely centred on the shared experience of Jesus Christ.

Even in John’s generation there were people in the Church who had not the privilege of personally hearing, seeing and touching Jesus, never mind the fact that here we are none of us have in 2023! He seems to counter that in this letter when he writes later in 3:24 “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us” and 4:13 “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”

When the Church comes together in either small group or celebration style building it testifies of their encounters and experiences of Jesus and it longs for more. The authenticity of Church is directly linked to the person of Jesus Christ and that means the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, fully human fully divine Jesus, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and the Soon Return and whilst we wait He lives in us by His Spirit and moves through us to a lost and broken world with healing and power. Anything less than that is not Church.

That is the true fellowship John says ‘you’ have with us who have heard, seen, looked and touched Jesus. But this fellowship goes further than with John’s community for it stretches to the’ Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ’. There is more. The Church can encounter and experience more as they Koinonia/Fellowship together they do so with the Father and the Son.

Can you imagine all the Churches in your locality with this shared experience and encounter of Jesus Christ? Can you imagine how you would feel? Your joy would indeed be complete.

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