The great examples of the Old Testament, the ones who were an example to the people of God are called ‘blameless’ (Noah; Gen 6:9, Abraham; Gen 17:1, David: 2 Sam 22:24, Ps 18:22-24, Job; Job 1:1). The people of God are called to be blameless as an outworking of the agenda setting ‘gathering’ at Sinai (Deut 18:13). It is those who are blameless who will dwell in the sanctuary of the Lord, who will inherit the land, which is inextricably tied to being part of God’s people (cf. Eph 5:5) (Ps 15:2, 37:18, 101:6; Proverbs 2:21, 20:7, 28:10).

As we come to the New Testament we inevitably find this theme continuing. In 1 Thessalonians 2:10 Paul talks about how he and the others who came with him were ‘holy, righteous and blameless’ among them. We know from Ephesians that this means they lived lives of love, forgiving and caring for each other. They modelled ‘church’ in front of these new Christians. It is clearly the future hope of God’s people that they will one day truly be ‘holy and blameless’. This is Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians in chapter 3:13. This is also Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9-11. In 2 Peter 3:13 Peter writes that they are looking forward to a new heaven and new earth which will be the home of righteousness. But these are not simply future hopes – they impact directly on the present reality. So Paul continues in Philippians 2:15 that they are to work out their salvation by obeying God, not being self-centred but having the same other person centred attitude as Christ. This will mean that they become ‘blameless and pure’, not only in the future of the new heaven and new earth but ‘in [this] crooked and depraved generation.’ It is interesting that Paul uses this language in particular. It is the same language that is used in Deut 32:5 where it is actually Israel who have become a ‘warped and crooked generation’. God’s people have failed to be who they should be. However the way to be the people of God is to obey God’s word (Deut 32:46-47). This obedience is about the whole of life; ‘by them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess’ (Deut 32:47). Peter likewise says that the future hope is something to be lived out in the here and now. 2 Peter 3:14 says ‘since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.’

God’s people are called to be holy and blameless. It is something that will be perfected when Christ comes again, and it is something to be worked out in the here and now. But being holy and blameless has a very ‘earthy’ definition. It is about living lives that are washed by God’s word, no longer living for self, but for others, loving, caring and forgiving. This is to what the people of God are called as a whole life thing. This is to what the church of Christ is called, according to Ephesians.

So, are we doing church when we are loving and caring for each other, living lives that are being changed by the Word, even if we are just standing at a bus stop? If being church is about becoming ‘holy and blameless’ in this way, as Paul writes, then the answer is yes.

Church is not less than a meeting, just as the nation of Israel was not less than the gathering at Sinai. But it is gloriously more. The pattern of life of the people of God was set at the gathering of Sinai. It was the defining moment of their history. The pattern of life of the people of God is set as we gather together around the teaching of God’s word on a Sunday, or whatever day you meet. That ‘gathering’ is defining of us as we listen to God’s word and seek to apply it. But that does not exhaust what it is to be ‘church’. Church continues throughout the week as we are washed by that word, becoming the holy, blameless people of God, the bride of Christ, the church, that we have been called to be. The agenda is set at the gathering. And we work it out as church as we live gospel-centred lives of loving each other as Christ has loved us.