Different Facilities, Same GBF
This article first appeared in our church newsletter GraceNotes shortly after GBF moved back to Sunnyvale from a temporary facility in Mountain View.
Where do you go to church?
It's one of the most common and almost necessary ice-breaking questions that Christians ask each other. For the record, I ask this question—in this form— quite frequently. But it's for colloquial purposes, and nothing more. From a linguistic standpoint, to ask someone "Where do you go to church?" is equivalent to asking someone "Where do you go to family?" It really doesn't make sense.
The reason is simple. The words where and go imply that the object of discussion is location. And the church, by biblical definition, is not a location. In the same way that a family may live at a particular location but itself is not a location, the same holds true for the church.
If the church was indeed a location, then implied is that the 159 members of GBF have indeed changed churches three times in the last twelve months. During the summer of 2014, GBF Sunday Services met at the Mountain View SDA facility. In September of 2014, we moved to and started meeting at Sunnyvale SDA. Then in June of 2015, due to a project undergone, we had to temporarily transfer our Sunday Service location to the Mountain View Academy (our current meeting location). If I was asked over the past twelve months on three separate occasions, "Where do you go to church?" I could have potentially given three different answers.
The truth is that the church’s facility location is related, but not synonymous, to the church’s identity. Or, better yet, it has nothing to do with who the church is. GBF did not switch from being the Sunnyvale SDA to the Mountain View Academy. We've remained as Grace Bible Fellowship. And in reality, GBF isn't something you "go" to. It is an institution in which we are integrated.
This truth stems from a deeper, biblical reality about the definition and nature of the church. The universal church, by definition, is the united body of believers that was formed and inaugurated at Pentecost through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The church is the household of Christ, not the house of Christ; we are His bride, not His bricks. The reason why GBF remains GBF whether we meet at Mountain View Academy, Sunnyvale SDA, or at Eagle Rock Park is because the church is a people, not a building. Listen to the words of Ephesians with regards to the nature of the church:
And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (1:22-23).
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple of the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (2:19-22).
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (4:11-13).
Thus, it is the identity of the people—not the address of the worship service - that defines the church. It is in the same way that the identity of a family is defined by its parents and children—not by the town home or city of residence in which the family lives. The local church, by definition, is the assembly of believers in Christ in a certain locality who have submitted themselves to a particular set of elders and who have committed themselves to one another for edification and accountability.
This is not to say that a proper facility is negligible in the life of the local church. Without a meeting place, the church can't engage in its purpose and ministry, in the same way that it would be difficult for a family to engage in family duties without a roof over their heads. But take a hard look over this past summer, and you'll see that temporarily moving facilities has not altered the identity, philosophy, or practices of GBF and its ministries.
Pastor Cliff has continued to preach expositionally through 1 Corinthians and other portions of Scripture. The same elders continue to shepherd the flock with due diligence, and the same staff continues to administer the various ministries. Sunday School classes have continued going through their respective curriculums and materials. The membership roster has not changed (though we've had some new visitors and regular attenders). People have continued to encourage one another in fellowship before and after Sunday Service, and have continued to meet together mid-week for Bible studies and discipleship groups. It remains a place where the grace of God is abundant, where the Bible is preached and taught, and where members have remained in fellowship with one another.
So instead of asking, "Where do you go to church?," perhaps we ought to ask, "To what local body of Christians to you belong?"