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Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Church




This post feels difficult.  That's probably why it took me two weeks to write it.  If the church was the building in which we meet (or don't), I would have no business writing this post at all.  It's a good thing that's not how we define the church...  Here's the Nazarene take on it according to article of faith XI:

XI. The Church

11. We believe in the Church, the community that confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, the covenant people of God made new in Christ, the Body of Christ called together by the Holy Spirit through the Word.

God calls the Church to express its life in the unity and fellowship of the Spirit; in worship through the preaching of the Word, observance of the sacraments, and ministry in His name; by obedience to Christ, holy living, and mutual accountability.

The mission of the Church in the world is to share in the redemptive and reconciling ministry of Christ in the power of the Spirit. The Church fulfills its mission by making disciples through evangelism, education, showing compassion, working for justice, and bearing witness to the kingdom of God.

The Church is a historical reality that organizes itself in culturally conditioned forms, exists both as local congregations and as a universal body, and also sets apart persons called of God for specific ministries. God calls the Church to live under His rule in anticipation of the consummation at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Exodus 19:3; Jeremiah 31:33; Matthew 8:11; 10:7; 16:13-19, 24; 18:15-20; 28:19-20; John 17:14-26; 20:21-23; Acts 1:7-8; 2:32-47; 6:1-2; 13:1; 14:23; Romans 2:28-29; 4:16; 10:9-15; 11:13-32; 12:1-8; 15:1-3; 1 Corinthians 3:5- 9; 7:17; 11:1, 17-33; 12:3, 12-31; 14:26-40; 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:1; Galatians 5:6, 13-14; 6:1-5, 15; Ephesians 4:1-17; 5:25-27; Philippians 2:1-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:13; Hebrews 10:19-25; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 13; 2:4-12, 21; 4:1-2, 10-11; 1 John 4:17; Jude 24; Revelation 5:9-10)

The Church, as defined here, is comprised of the people of God, the covenant people of God.  Oh goodness, there is not enough time to dive into what covenant really means, today, but that is a thought to come back to in future posts.  For the moment, let it suffice to say that if covenant is central then what God does is of the utmost importance here.

God calls.

God calls people. 

God calls people and creates covenant, and they become the Church, the people of God.

"God calls the Church to express its life in the unity and fellowship of the Spirit; in worship through the preaching of the Word, observance of the sacraments, and ministry in His name; by obedience to Christ, holy living, and mutual accountability."  This is an excellent, concise statement defining what the Church should be.  In theory, this is perfect.  In praxis, I think we need some further explanation to understand how this actually works...

"Unity and fellowship of the Spirit" does not mean uniformity to sociological trends.  And, friends, the Church often speaks out against this while simultaneously creating their own trends to which people must submit if they are to be considered a part of the Church.  Trading the social norms of "the world" for the social norms of the Church is not equatable to fellowship of the Spirit.  Having just studied the book of Acts for the past year, it has become more and more clear to me that when the Holy Spirit comes, believers are enabled to spread the message of Jesus in contexts that are not their own.  Even when studying the early Church, we find multiple examples of times and places where they do not do this well, seemingly misunderstanding the difference between conformity and transformation, but the point remains; the Spirit empowers us for harmony within diversity.  To be a unified Church, we must allow for multiple social contexts.

"in worship through the preaching of the Word, observance of the sacraments, and ministry in His name..."  It's probably very worthwhile to consider the four-fold pattern of worship at this point.  The first three parts: gathering, the word, and the table are generally accepted as our typical liturgy for corporate worship, although the table (and other sacraments) may take a less prominent place in Protestant churches.  This coming together, in worship, is essential for the Church.  The word (Scripture) and the Word (Jesus)...  essential for the church.  The sacraments (and especially the table... the Eucharist... on a regular basis)... essential for the church.

"by obedience to Christ, holy living, and mutual accountability." I can't even begin to express how deeply I wish this was self-evident.  The truth is, there is still a lot to deal with in this article, so I am simply going to leave any explanation about this for another day, because, if nothing else, mutual accountability deserves a whole post itself...

" The mission of the Church in the world is to share in the redemptive and reconciling ministry of Christ in the power of the Spirit."  Perhaps this is the fourth part, sending or dismissal.  "The liturgical rite of dismissal... does not simply mean 'now the service is over, and you are permitted to leave'; rather, it means 'go into the world now, and live there what you have just celebrated" (Pelzel, 2002, Kindle Location 98).  What happens in the worship gathering propels us into the mission.  And... well... as irony would have it, that's not all!  "Though it takes many forms, ultimately the goal of the Christian mission is to widen and enrich the communion of the human family, to make it completely inclusive.  The goal is to broaden the Eucharistic assembly" (Pelzel, 2002, Kindle Location 104).  So, as it turns out, mission also propels us into worship.

A rather popular trend, in the Church today, is to compartmentalize worship and mission, making one more important than the other.  This is a terrible plan.  They depend on each other and belong together.  There is no integrity in stripping the church of either very important component.

"The Church fulfills its mission by making disciples through evangelism, education, showing compassion, working for justice, and bearing witness to the kingdom of God."  This is good, although I think it is always more powerful when we share stories than list guidelines.  See the current Ministry Monday topic, "The Least of These," and please feel free to share what you're doing, what your church is doing, and what you see other people doing, to fulfill mission...

"The Church is a historical reality that organizes itself in culturally conditioned forms, exists both as local congregations and as a universal body..." OK.  I'm perfectly fine with this as long as we accept all of those culturally conditioned forms and recognize that we do not have to be segregated but that we can come together and accept diversity in unity... deja vu... see some other paragraph you just read above...  And, as long as we accept that both the local congregation and the universal body have value (you really don't want to get me started on "our local church is the only church"...  I mean it, really, you don't...) 

"...and also sets apart persons called of God for specific ministries."
I am slightly confused why we throw this in here.  It's true, and good, but it might be better placed...

"God calls the Church to live under His rule in anticipation of the consummation at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."  I really thought we covered, "God calls" quite thoroughly in the discussion about worship and mission.  Perhaps this is redundant, or perhaps it is one of those things that is so important we need to say it multiple times.  Either way, yes, God calls...

L.  

Work Cited:
Pelzel, Morris, and Morris Pelzel. Ecclesiology: The Church as Communion and Mission. Chicago: Loyola, 2002. Print.

2 comments:

  1. As is no surprise, I am very happy to see your work on bringing balance to the often dichotomized worship/mission tension. It is not an either/or endeavor, but is symbiotic, each propelling the church dynamically into each aspect of the church. I like the metaphor of breathing in relationship to our ecclesiology. Worship is where God breathes us in, shapes us and forms us into the kind of people who can then be breathed out into the world for mission. These are mutually inclusive acts.

    Practically speaking, this means that the novel practice of closing the doors on the building of the church assembly one Sunday of the month for "mission," misses the mark on the rhythm of breathing. The weekly worship of the church is essential. We do not "skip" worship to engage in mission . We are sent (missio) into the world as the completion of our worshiping act.

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    Replies
    1. Rich -

      Thanks for this comment. Great metaphor.

      Do churches really do this: "closing the doors on the building of the church assembly one Sunday of the month for 'mission'"? This is a serious question, because I don't know anyone who does this. I think it's the kind of thing that would have been appealing to me at some point, but that would have been during an era where I attended churches that had no room for mission, at all, in their ecclesiology. I tend to agree, now, that this would actually disrupt the rhythm.

      I'm still not sure the Church really understands the being sent part, though. Often, there is so much compartmentalization that allows for being the Church only on Sunday or only within the building. This is part of why I really liked the Pelzel quote about dismissal...

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