I used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”. It was set in a small town in Wisconsin. It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time. One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture. One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.
When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering. Church is meant to be a place where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps. A gathering of people in the name of God is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes including where two or three are gathered in his name.
Gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly. One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event. It was their everything. It was the qahal. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was known as ekklesia. That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.
Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: church was about being called out to something. The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure. the “ek” was the out of. This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world. The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way.
As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics, one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for. Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).
Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.
No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).
Mount Zion— When there is Zion, there is David. Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished. His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but where fulfilled in Jesus it does not.
..the living God— God is alive and not an idol. He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image. We know from Adam and Eve that however he did it we are formed unto him.
..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest. And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.
countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation. The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not. I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.
the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints. Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8). The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).
and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing. God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline. This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”. God is judge and father. It is a paradox but not a contradiction.
and the spirits of the just made perfect— This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory. For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and 2 Maccabees 12:24.
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—- An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”. I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note: pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus.
Most or all of these characteristics can be found in the scenes I refer to as “micro- church” or just Church-Church. The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true for God. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus is fully appreciated for who he was by those who knew him, the traits are there. This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear.
A prime example for one who could see the kingdom of God for all it is as part of long-term called out community of God was someone who was “full of grace”. This is why the first “micro-church” I will address is Mary of Nazareth. For a teenage girl, she had a lot to say because she was “full of grace” and was a daughter of Zion. I can hardly wait.