In the Church, it’s easy to use terms such as ‘Kingdom of God’, ‘resurrection’, ‘trinity’ and even ‘Church’ as shorthand for larger concepts when exploring our faith. The same can be said for every language, culture and subculture. But this sort of language can either have no meaning or different meaning depending on who speaks, hears, writes or reads it. At Queen’s Park Govanhill we want to cultivate a community in which it is safe to ask difficult questions and explore difficult concepts together.
In order to be clearer in our use of certain words and expressions, we have composed an admittedly non-exhaustive list of some Christian expressions:
The word ‘church’ has a rather complicated linguistic background. This English word comes from the German word Kirche, which itself derives from a Greek phrase κῡριακόν δῶμα (kūriakon dōma), meaning ‘house of the Lord’. The Scots word Kirk also comes from this Greek root.
Sometimes we see the word ‘Church’ capitalised, whilst other times we see it in lowercase, both of which can refer to different things. When it is capitalised it can be referring to the universal Church, that is, the people that make up the Christian Church throughout the world and throughout the generations. This includes all Christian denominations: Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox Christians, Episcopalians, Baptists, non-denominational churches, etc. — all of these parts come together to form the universal Church. The Church in this sense is also called the Body of Christ and the people of God.
The word Church can also be capitalised when it refers to a particular institution, such as the Church of Scotland or Queen’s Park Govanhill Parish Church. It can also refer to the building in which people meet to worship. When it is used in this way, it is not capitalised (‘See you at the church?’).
The word ‘Bible’ comes from the Greek word τὰ βιβλία (tà biblía), meaning ‘the books’. The Christian Bible, as we know it, is a collection of religious texts that were written over a period of some 1600 years, by more than forty authors in three different languages and across several continents. Because of such diversity, the context and purpose of each one of the individual books in the Bible varies. In the Christian tradition, we believe that the Bible has special value in our lives because it tells a story of God’s interaction with the world and of the people who follow God.
For more information, see A Brief Introduction to the Bible.
Most, if not all, Christian denominations have some form of church government, that is to say, a particular way in which a church is led and operated. Queen’s Park Govanhill is a parish church within the Church of Scotland, and as such, we have a Presbyterian form of church government. The Presbyterian system of church government was developed by the founder of the Church of Scotland, John Knox, who derived this structure from the teachings of the French theologian John Calvin (Jehan Cauvin). The word ‘presbytery’ comes from the Greek word πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros), meaning ‘elder’. Thus, a Presbyterian church is one that is led by committees of elders.
In the present-day Church of Scotland, elders are elected by a local congregation in order to sit on a committee called a Kirk Session. A minister is also elected by the congregation and serves as the moderator of the Kirk Session. A representative or representatives from the Kirk Session (including the minister) are then appointed to a larger committee called a Presbytery. Currently, there are 46 Church of Scotland Presbyteries in Scotland and three outside of Scotland. One member of a Presbytery is then elected by the Presbytery to serve as the Moderator of Presbytery for a year. From each Presbytery, delegates are selected every year in order to take part in a General Assembly, a national gathering that takes place during the third week of May.
Presbyterianism seems like a mouthful, and no form of church government is perfect, but in the Church of Scotland we believe it to be an effective way to represent the interests of our Church from the bottom up.
The Church of Scotland, or the Kirk, is the national church of Scotland. This being said, the Church of Scotland, unlike churches such as the Church of England, is not a state church (it is not under control of the Scottish Government). As the national church of Scotland, the Kirk is committed to covering every square inch of Scotland. The whole of Scotland is divided into what we call ‘parishes’ (from the Greek word πάροικος [paroikos] meaning ‘dwelling beside, stranger, sojourner’), each assigned to a particular Kirk Session and minister. At Queen’s Park Govanhill, it is our calling to serve the people in our parish through whatever means we deem necessary, such as partnering with local organisations who provide support as well as providing any other services we can, such as support during times of bereavement. It is important for us not only to care for those who venture into our church building (although, opening our doors for the community is a major part of what we do at Queen’s Park Govanhill), but also for the folk beyond our walls.
The word ‘minister’ is a Latin word that comes from another Latin word, minus, meaning ‘less’. That being said, a minister in the Church of Scotland is called to be a servant of the congregation and the parish. But in the Church (the universal Church), the work of ministry is not the sole task of the minister or priest. According to the letter of St Paul to the church in Ephesus,
With this in mind, at Queen’s Park Govanhill, the work of ministry is not restricted to the minister — it is the task of the whole of the congregation.
The word ‘worship’ is derived from the Old English word weorþscipe, which essentially means ‘to give honour to something’. When we gather as a church family to worship we are spending time ascribing worth and expressing our thankfulness to God as a community. This is an essential part of church life. Generally, our services of worship are structured as follows:
|Kingdom of God||
The concept of the Kingdom of God is foundational in the Christian faith. It is used throughout the Christian tradition and is mentioned throughout the Bible many times (sometimes as ‘the kingdom of heaven’). The phrase can be picked apart from many sides, but its general implications are as follows:
In the Christian tradition, these implications, while very basic, are indispensable. As with all of these definitions, this exploration is inevitably non-exhaustive. We will briefly analyse these three implications.
1. God is the king of the Kingdom The Kingdom of God is the most important theme in the Christian tradition (and arguably the other two Abrahamic religions: Judaism and Islam). The natural head of any ‘kingdom’ is the ‘king’. To say that God is the king of the Kingdom of God is to say that God is the ruler of the Kingdom, a rightful monarch without equal. All authority and power in the Kingdom of God belongs to God.
2. The Kingdom of God is both visible and invisible There is an element (or are elements) of the kingdom of God that is not yet present, something made especially evident in the Christian experience. The expectation of Christians throughout history is that God will bring about the fullness of the Kingdom of God at some future point in the second coming of Jesus Christ. We use the language ‘visible and invisible’ as it is written in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 CE, which I consider the most fundamental and comprehensive ecumenical (general) Church creed:
Even in this first section of the Creed we see our first two implications (1. God is the king of the Kingdom; 2. The Kingdom of God is both visible and invisible). The language of the Creed is helpful because it seeks to paint a very clear and concise picture of the orthodox Christian faith. The words ‘visible and invisible’ help us to see the overarching nature of the universe and God’s reign of that universe. Orthodox Christian theology does not paint the universe in a dichotomy of ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’. Throughout the ages, this dualism has caused countless conflicts that have been deemed heretical. Indeed, to see humans or the universe as split into ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’ is at odds with the way that God has both created the world and redeemed it – holistically. The coming of Jesus (the Son of God) and his life, death and Resurrection point to a God who created unified, holistic beings, whose nature is fully understood in unified, holistic terms. As St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, Christ’s bodily Resurrection is ‘the first fruits’ of ‘those who belong to Christ.’ The Kingdom of God is not some disembodied spiritual kingdom, but it is God’s reign of over all things that God has created and deemed good, both ‘visible and invisible’.
3. To be a Christian is to be a citizen or member of the Kingdom of God Because of the first two implications of the Kingdom of God, that God is the king and that the Kingdom is universal, to be a Christian is to be a part of that Kingdom. We cannot understand any part of what it means to be a part of that kingdom without understanding first that God is the king of said kingdom and that this kingdom is universal; all other implications of the Kingdom of God hinge upon these principles.
It’s important to make note of the inevitable imprecision of our talk about God and the Kingdom of God. Since Christians are members of the Kingdom of God, subjects as to a monarch even, it serves us well to learn, rehearse and enact what that means for the way we live and think. Unfortunately we face one significant roadblock: God. I’ve been writing, ‘God is this’ and ‘God is that’, but as the seminal twentieth-century Reformed theologian Karl Barth reminds us time and time again, God is entirely ‘other’. What is meant by this is that God as a being is distinct from the creation and whilst the creation is invested with the presence of God (notably through Christ, the Holy Spirit and the presence of the Kingdom of God), in trying to talk about God, inevitably, we will be imprecise. This might seem discouraging, but we should be pleased that we haven’t figured everything out! The comfort rests in the fact that God is gracious.
God has been gracious to us through coming into this world as Jesus Christ, who not only demonstrates to us what it is to be fully human and what it is to live in the Kingdom of God, but it is Christ himself who is the revelation of God to us. It is through an active conversation with God as the Church that we learn more and more what it is to be that very thing: God’s Church.
Word of God
As this is an incomplete list, questions are always welcome at Queen’s Park Govanhill. We know we don’t have all the answers, but we are committed to exploring questions together, in humility, gentleness and love.