Back when we were first contemplating naming ourselves The Core, I briefly entertained the idea of spelling it “The COR”. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t, because it looks stupid. But I was originally dissuaded for a different reason. I told a co-worker about my idea, and she said, “Oh, I see! Church Of Ryan.” Immediately I realized it needed an “e” on the end. Thankfully my last name doesn’t begin with “e”.
There are actually two things wrong with “Church of Ryan.” The obvious one is that my name is in it. The Apostle Paul rebuked those who claimed to follow Apollos, or Peter, or himself, because all Christians should follow Christ alone (or pre-eminently, anyway.) It’s kind of a shame that there is a denomination called “Church of Christ”, because this should describe every gathering of believers.
Let me issue a challenge to everyone reading this. The first person to e-mail me the name of a church somewhere in the United States that is named after its mortal human founder, or leader, will get a free drink of their choice from the MudHouse. No teeny-tiny churches, and no cults, please. Also, churches named St. John’s, St. Peter’s, Our Lady Guadalupe of the Immaculate Reception, and so forth, do not count. I make this challenge because I would be surprised if such a church exists… Now, I could name several churches off the top of my head that are totally centered around one charismatic leader, but I doubt anyone would be cocky enough to make it so obvious.
So the first problem is the word “Ryan”. The second problem, then, is the word “Church”. Is The Core “a church” at all?
For the sake of clarity, I tell people that The Core is a church in the same sense that First United Southern Presbyterian is a church, or Third Baptist is a church (even though these examples, to my knowledge, do not exist.) It is not simply a ministry, or a parachurch organization. It is a Christian congregation, which most people would call “a church.” But even that thought chafes me a bit. Because I can’t say for sure that there is such a thing as “a church.” (*see first comment)
What was “a church” in the New Testament? Well, there was “the church” of Colossae, “the church” of Rome, “the church” of Sardis (sorry for all the quote marks… if you and I were having this conversation in person you would be getting the Chinese finger-cuffs out by now to get me to stop hooking my fingers in the air.) Why were these “churches” (sorry) separate from each other? I think the obvious answer is: geography. People could only travel so far to gather with one another. And within that travel radius, there appeared to be a fair amount of unity. When Paul chided the Corinthians, he didn’t say, “Well, I’m pretty happy with that group of you that raises your hands a lot, but I’m not so happy with that group of you that does everything by committee.” No…they succeeded together, and they failed together, because they were ONE CHURCH. As were all the other churches that Paul wrote to, and the seven churches that Jesus addressed in the book of Revelation. (*see second comment)
Today, you have people belonging to churches up to 30 miles from home. Many people, limited only by geography, could choose from hundreds of churches to attend. If limited by geography and denomination, that might cut it down to 30. If limited by geography, denomination and style, you may only have 5 choices. Now you just have to choose the one with the best children’s program, or the nicest people, or the most dynamic pastor.
Is this starting to remind anyone of a trip down the hair products aisle? Why should we expect anyone to be more loyal to their church than they are to their Aloe & Watermelon Moisturizing Shampoo Plus Conditioner for Oily Brunettes? They are the same thing in most people’s minds, because when the church becomes a product, the Christian becomes a consumer.
But when the Church was founded, it was just that… THE CHURCH. It was not a denomination, conglomeration or organization. It was the Universal Body of Christ, with local chapters gathering whenever and wherever they could. It wasn’t about finding people you love. It was about loving the people you’ve already got.
So you’re right to wonder why anybody would want to plant “another church” (sorry again) in Springfield, buckle of the Bible Belt. I wonder that, too. I can only hope that The Core is presenting people an opportunity to finally understand what it means to be part of “The Church”… to forget about being a card-carrying member of a religious institution, and start being a load-bearing member (an arm, an ear, a nose, a foot) of the Body of Christ.