Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What is This Church Thing?

Having been properly chastised (thanks Rachel!) for creating this series sans flow, I humbly move forward with my thoughts on church. This is the start of my view of ecclesiology. There are others, and if you have differing views please chime in with a comment.

Having taken on the task of going through the question of megachurches, I find myself needing to start back a bit before getting to the specifics of all things mega. Before getting into the size of a church, I need to cover my view of what the Church is, what it is tasked to do and how we should "do church." This should lead to an inevitably clear view of how I see megachurches before I even get to the question, but that's fine. Really, the mega-question as I posed it is about how we should "do church" and what a Christian church really should be and do.

So let's start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start!) (Or so I've heard.) The beginnings of the Church, in my mind, are found in Matthew where Jesus tells Simon that he (Simon) will be called Peter, and will be the one on whom His (Jesus') Church is built. The Church is the movement that began when Jesus gave Peter a mission.

(Sidebar: Interestingly, the mission wasn't given to Peter until later on. When Jesus first tells Peter that Peter's going to be the one on whom the Church would be built, He didn't start laying out the tasks and vision. In fact, the first thing Jesus says after breaking the news is "not to tell anyone that he was the Christ." This is counter to what the mission of the church would end up being, but the time for the mission wasn't right. There's a lesson in leadership here: give people a vision for what they'll do, and then prepare them for it. Jesus laid out a vision for His Church, then spent the last days of His life instructing the Apostles for how to fulfill that vision. After the preparation time, before He was to return to Heaven, Jesus finally gave them their mission statement. I think those of us in leadership roles, whatever they may be, can learn from this example: vision, preparation, mission. Mix up the order you can end up with confusion.)

Zoom ahead a while, and we see the beginning of the movement that Jesus said was coming. In Acts 2 we see the first church sermon, as it were, on the day of Pentecost. And the first church started with Peter and the Apostles seeing "about three thousand ... added to their number that day." The Church was, and is, those who respond to the Gospel, accepting "in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of [their] sins." (Acts 2:38.)

Paul, in many places but notably in I Corinthians 12 identifies the Church as the "body of Christ" of which all those who were baptized by one spirit into relationship with each other. The Church is also described as the bride of Christ, and a priesthood. There are other biblical (and some extra-biblical, or non-biblical) metaphors used to describe the church as well.

What it boils down to, to me, is that the Church is made up of anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior regardless of culture, gender, race, age or social status. This definition is probably too broad for many fundamentalists (or my fellow evangelicals) as I do not lay forth a specific set of criteria on which to judge whether someone fully accepts "the minimum" standards required to be called Christian. It's probably too limiting to others who may think that Jesus need not be Lord and/or Savior to be relevant to one's life. I realize this. I could try to define the core beliefs necessary to call oneself a Christian and remain true to the name, but that is out of the scope of this topic. Suffice it to say, I would draw the line to the right of center, so to speak, in light of passages like Acts 4:12 and Matthew 7:14-23. But I'm not getting into soteriology here.

So if the Church is, in essence, all believers, why so many churches? I'll end this post on the distinction between the (big-C) Church and a (little-c) church, and will flesh this out in following posts regarding how we "do church." There is the Church, the universal "body of Christ" made up of all those who believe in and follow Jesus. A church, on the other hand, is a localized or regional sub-set of the overall Church. We can't gather all Christians worldwide into one place, so naturally we meet in smaller groups based on some set of criteria: geography, doctrine, methods, modes, styles, personalities, denominational affiliations, relationships, preferences, etc. And these criteria, unfortunately, do more to divide us than they should. Hence the series. So these differences that break up the Church into many churches will be paid much attention in coming posts. And note, not all differences are bad or divisive. Some are good and appropriate. We just need to act better when handling the differences.

This post, as usual, is long enough. Next time up? What is the Church's mission. After that comes the discussion how that mission should be handled when so many of us have different ideas of how to do church, culminating in the mega-part of this topic.

God bless,

1 comment:

ella jean said...

the reference to the blog not flowing like i had hoped was me talking about my own blog. sorry it read like i was talking about yours. but i do appreciate the extension on your blog. thanks!