What is it that makes a crowd, a church? What is it that makes a gathering, church? What are the signs amongst the people that they are indeed a congregation and not another crowd like a family reunion, neighbourhood get-together, or political rally? I had opportunity to reflect on this on my last day of vacation.
I’ll set the scene. My wife, daughters, and I were just finished a week out at the beach. The rented cabin had been cleared out, the car was packed for the trip home, and we wanted one last trip down to the water before heading back to the city.
Next to our favourite spot there was a larger group of people gathered, 25-30 or so folks. As we passed them I couldn’t shake a suspicion. Those people are a church congregation. Not a family gathering, not a community event, not a political rally, definitely a church. Many know that a church isn;t the building, and these people were gathering outside at the beach. Despite 99% certainty I was scratching my head for awhile as to how I knew. I just knew. After it was confirmed that they were indeed a church, I was still trying to figure it out my near certain suspicion.
Let me describe them. There quite a few Filipino people (largest visible minority group in my part of Canada), a few others of Asian descent (Chinese heritage? Korean?), a fair number of black people (some spoke with African accents, some did not), and white people as well. There were old people, teenagers, young families with kids. For a smallish gathering it was remarkably diverse.
That was it, the diversity, that’s how I knew. Unlikely they were natural family, they must be supernatural family. The Apostle Paul indicates this diversity as a sign of the Christian people: Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11).
Now not every congregation will be so diverse, community demographics play a part. And neither should we demand or require a certain level of ethnic differences for a church to “be a church”. Nevertheless, the diversity is a sign – a sign of the future reality when those from every tongue, tribe, and nation will be gathered to worship Jesus. It was also my clue as to that gathering on the beach.
That’s how I suspected but how was my suspicion confirmed? So simple, and also indicated by Paul’s Colossian description of church. They started singing. They sang some hymn I had’t ever heard and they praised God together. Then one fellow stood up and read the Bible and encouraged the people from it. Song and word: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16).