I wrote this post a few years ago, after a visit with a friend yesterday I am reposting it. I believe church is a group of people irritating one another towards love and good works.
Whenever someone makes the discovery that church is something more than just going to a building on a Sunday, all kinds of reactions follow. One of the reactions I’ve noticed is one that I’ll term a ‘transcendent ecclesiology.’ A transcendent ecclesiology has as its base belief the understanding that church happens at any place and at any time.
These people repeat over and again that, ‘church is everywhere’, when two people get together for drinks, golf, yoga, chess or whatever … they are the church. This reaction sometimes manifests itself with an intense loathing of any organized church events. They believe you don’t go to the church you are the church. Let me say upfront that I know this kind of thinking because I’ve been there and sometimes I still am.
So the other day someone said to me that he defines church with the word community. Church is where he has community. Obviously one then has to define ‘community’ or whatever term one wants to use. When I entered the Christian world the word ‘fellowship’ was in vogue.
Church is then where one has community, fellowship or whatever term is popular (maybe today one can say it is the place where one is missional).
Many people who have moved from understanding church as just a place to being a people are so excited to leave the old church behind. Well-intentioned friends (and usually pastors) will then remind them of Hebrews 10:25,
“Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
A conversation referencing this verse will usually come back to “don’t develop a habit of not coming to the gathering(s).” What the gathering means is 99.7% of the time the Sunday worship service. This proof text is then used to bring the new zealot back into the fold.
I would like to offer a few thoughts on the verse and its context.
First, the size of the gathering is not stipulated. As far as I’m concerned it could be 2 or 500000. What is stipulated in the verse is the outworking and purpose of the gathering; an encouraging. When one looks at the verses preceding this one, the purpose of the gathering becomes even clearer. Here is the whole paragraph in context,
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
When we see the whole paragraph in context, it becomes clear that just being at the assembly is not the purpose. Stimulating one another to love and good deeds is the intention of the assembly.
Community can be defined (using verse 24) as the place where we’re considering how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.
Here is where things get interesting.
The word ‘stimulating’ in Greek is the word paroxusmos, where the English word ‘paroxysm’ comes from.
3948 παροξυσμός [paroxusmos /par∑ox∑oos∑mos/]. From 3947 (“paroxysm”); Two occurrences; translates as “contention … so sharp” once, and “to provoke unto + 1519” once. 1 an inciting, incitement. 2 irritation. 1
Webster defines paroxysm as:
1 : a fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease) : convulsion “a paroxysm of coughing”
2 : a sudden violent emotion or action : outburst “a paroxysm of rage”
Using this word, one can then say that community is a place where we develop people who have a “sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms” of love and good deeds, or to use the second definition, where we develop one another so that we have “sudden violent emotions and actions” of love and good deeds – a paroxysm of love and good deeds.
The particular noun is only used twice in the New Testament. The other time is in Acts 15 where the paroxysm between Paul and Barnabas over Mark became so violent that they parted ways.
The ‘Theological Dictionary of the New Testament’ notes that:
parox˝nō [to spur, to stir to anger], paroxysmus [irritation, stimulation]
The verb means, “to spur,” “to stir to anger,” passive “to be provoked, incensed.” The noun is rare and means “provocation” or “irritation.” 2
The noun παροξυσμός is rare. A neutral sense of “incitement” is found neither in secular Gk. nor the LXX, but the word is used for “provocation,” “irritation” in Demosth.Or., 45, 14. 3
Some translations use the word ‘provoke.’ Over the last few years our community have opted for the word irritate. It strikes the ear as a dissonance to hear that we should consider how we could irritate one another to love and good deeds. It is also at this point where I want to offer a healthy corrective to the thought line of the ‘transcendent ecclesiology’ that sees church everywhere.
We all stand in danger to build community with people who are just like us (and like drinking beer and coffee). The reason for this is that we don’t like being irritated by people. So we build small enclaves and personal relationships with people of the same race, education, socioeconomic standing and faith. Somehow we believe that it is in our best interest to do this.
What if real community is a place where you’re irritated towards love and good deeds and where you’re irritating other towards the same? It’s not just about our coming together, it is also about our going towards. Church is then a people where we are irritated towards love and good deeds.
1. Strong, J. 1996. The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the test of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (G3948). Woodside Bible Fellowship.: Ontario
2. Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. 1995, c1985. Theological dictionary of the New Testament. Translation of: Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament. (791). W.B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Mich.
3. Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (5:857). Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI