Imagine walking on the beach. The sand is littered with millions of shells and fragments. A few catch your eye with their unique color or shape. You carefully select the shells you really like. At home, you wash the shells and arrange some of them in a pottery dish in the kitchen. The rest end up in a plastic bag in the closet.
Your friend lives somewhere cold and gray. Somewhere with little sun and even less beach. You tuck two shells into the front pocket of their backpack. Is anything better than taking home a piece of South Florida warmth and color?
Multiple characteristics of your shell collection are observable but not definitive. You have shells from Dania, Key Biscayne and Marco Island - origin doesn’t really matter. The canvas beach sack, the pottery dish, stored in the closet – current location is also not definitive. Your collection is not defined by the color, shape or size of each shell. Some of the shells are chipped. You chose them, and love them anyway.
Out of the millions of shells on the beach, you chose only a few. You removed them from the beach, gathered them together, and they belong to you. Countless shells are not part of your collection – those left on the beach. The shells you gave away were once yours but are no longer.
The Hebrew word is “Qoheleth”, the Greek translation is “Ekklesia”. It is a gathering, a collection. It means selected, picked or called out.
Matthew relates the story of a conversation Jesus had with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi. He told them “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, ESV) The word “church” is “Ekklesia”.
This is a Christ centered definition of “church”. It’s not where we come from, how we look, who is chipped or broken. It’s not whether we meet in a home, park, store front, or traditional church building. It is not defined by our cultural heritage or what language is used for worship.
Jesus has a collection. It’s a gathering of souls that he has chosen out of the billions. The definitive characteristic of this group is that each soul has been loved, chosen, removed from where it was - set apart. Each remains in the possession of the Master. Church isn’t about us, it’s about Him. The gathering of Jesus followers is built by Jesus and he will preserve it. The “gates of hell” will not prevail. You can stake your life on that promise.