“Where is Entmoot?” Pippin ventured to ask. “Hoo, eh? Entmoot?” said Treebeard, turning around.” It is not a place, it is a gathering of Ents…
—J.R.R. Tolkein, The Two Towers
The passage above occurs when Treebeard tells his new hobbit friends, Merry and Pippin, that they are on their way to the Entmoot. The Entmoot is not a place, but a gathering of Ents. That’s not too far off from the church.
Too often we think of the church as a structure with a fixed location. In reality, the church is not a place, but a gathering of believers, to borrow Treebeard’s words. This has profound implications for how we live and act as a Christian community.
For one, no one can be a believer and not be subject to the church. Some people faithfully gather every weekend, say, “I go to [blank] church,” and have good friendships with others in the congregation, yet don’t want to officially join the church. Maybe they have sin in their lives they don’t want to give up. Perhaps they disagree with a point of doctrine or practice. It could just be that they want to maintain their privacy. But church membership and mutual accountability isn’t limited by a membership card and a vote of acceptance. The “one anothers” of the New Testament don’t limit themselves to official church members, but extend to anyone who call himself a brother in Christ. By gathering together with a group of believers and calling yourself a believer, you are opening yourself to the encouragement, support, instruction, and rebuke of other believers because that’s what it means to be a believer who gathers with the rest of the church.
Second, the health of a church depends not on programs and financial statements, but on relationships and God’s word. Thus, my main concern in deciding on which church to attend should not depend primarily on whether there’s a good band and a decent children’s ministry, but on how the church members live in community and whether or not they are faithful to the teaching of the Bible. Sure, we should be concerned about music and children, but not over and above matters of mutual love and biblical faithfulness. A community of believers that loves each other can improve over time in programs, but a disconnected community of believers who love their programs will not likely add mutual love or biblical faithfulness anytime soon.
This weekend when gather with the church, look around you. See the faces. Are you part of a community of believers, or merely stopping by a place you call “church?”