On not having closed our churches

Language matters.

It matters more in how it is heard than in how it is meant.

If we want to communicate certain things, then disciplined use of language can help us, because it will improve the chances of what we want to say being heard, rather than being misunderstood.

There was a time when we British Baptists would not have thought of calling the building we met in for worship a ‘church’.

We knew that the church was the congregation, gathered together by God, covenanted to each other before God.

If the church habitually met in a particular building, we called that a ‘chapel’.

‘Church,’ we once understood, meant people, saved by grace, making expansive vows to each other because God has called us together.

‘Chapel,’ we used to know, meant a building, where the church can conveniently congregate.

[This is for us Baptists—and of course for others, although I do not presume to identify those traditions that would be happy to be defined by this point—other faithful followers of our King Jesus will disagree, and so will define things differently.]

This old, almost lost, tradition, seems important just now.

Our chapels are closed, but our churches are alive and active, and doing wonderful Kingdom work, spreading the gospel and doing justice.

Perhaps this present strange season will teach us that there was value in the old language: we should not identify ‘chapel’ and ‘church’ because the former is incidental to us, the latter the definitive core of who we are.

Our chapels are closed—and, on Sundays in particular, that is a great sadness to us, because we long to gather together for worship.

Our chapels are closed, but our churches are open and active. Announcing the gospel, however they can; serving the needy; comforting those who mourn; praying for the needs of the fellowship, the community, and the world; living out the call of the Kingdom.

For us Baptists, our chapels are closed, but our churches are open and alive and active; the one is an inconvenience; the other a vital gospel truth.

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