Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What Church?

The first comment from yesterday's post raises the next question: what is the church? Our Reformed confessional heritage can be both gift and burden for all such questions, but on this one it does offer much to consider. I believe it is the Scots Confession that says the marks of the true church are that the word of God is rightly proclaimed and the sacraments are rightly administered. I can't help a day-after-King-Day provocation: perhaps the fire hoses of Birmingham were baptism, the lunch counter sit-ins were the Lord's Supper, and "I have a dream" was the word proclaimed.
In addition to the marks of the church, he constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) names certain purposes or ends of the church. Among them is "exhibiting the kingdom of God to the world." The Beloved Community is one compelling image of that kingdom.
Of course there are many ways to be the church and few will ever be called to look much like the Civil Rights Movement, but, as Martin Luther suggested, a church that "gives nothing, costs nothing and suffers nothing is worth nothing." Radical generosity, costly grace and redemptive suffering may just be additional "marks of the church."
Nevertheless, no matter what vision pertains -- whether conservative or progressive, Reformed or Roman, movement or institution -- the present moment demands that we think seriously about the question: is the church necessary? Why? Why not? What do you think? How does your own experience with church shape your response?


Anonymous said...

From James: (By the way, this blog lists us as anonymous, which is less helpful for us to interact as a class. Perhaps we could identify ourselves at the beginning with our first names -- an option.) Is the church necessary -- yes, I think it is. I always come back to the basic concept of faith. We are drawn to the church because we have faith -- faith that something, someone, somewhere created the world in which we live (by evolutionary processes, of course...), that we aren't "alone," that someone loves us -- faith about many things. And that faith draws us toward an institution that will help us understand and explore our faith. What does it mean? How does it apply to our lives? The institution -- the church -- also helps us express that faith through activism and good works, and to express thanks for the things that we enjoy in our life. Many churches don't seem to want to encourage questioning or exploring, but to me that's the most important role of a church, to be the facilitator for such things. People often talk about how institutions change or control people -- they'll say that a boy in trouble joined the Marines and the institution made a responsible man out of him, or that marriage or the influence of a woman on a man can somehow "tame" him, stop him from being a slob, etc. Those are stereotypical comments, but there is a grain of truth in them. In that same vein, I think the church as an institution can change or influence people. People can be influenced to become more conservative in their thinking or more generous, more caring, even more liberal. I think some of the questions raised about the proper purpose of the church can be related to its influence as an institution and whether the questioner approves or disagrees with the influence. Personally, I see its influence in my own life and those of others I am close to as positive, so I think there's a need for it as an institution. People whose experience with its influence has been negative might disagree.

Anonymous said...

From Cheryl:
I've definitely had some negative experiences with church! But those were churches where the view of church was a poor fit with my own core values and my own reading of scripture.
I've also experienced church as the embodiment of Christ's love. Seems to me that James is on to something with his comments about not being "alone," and I've experienced that on many levels.

Marty said...

From Marty:
Church to me is a community. Making the world a bit smaller. With common interest and 'generall' views. But what makes the church different than a fraternity (college,elks, etc.)? Maybe because it encourages/helps you to put yourself in a diufferent place for a small amount of time in our busy lives. For me,when the church starts judging me or tells me how tolive my life, then it will scary me away.

Anonymous said...

From Bryan: The church is necessary in that it provides a means of fellowship. As Marty stated, church is a community. People gather, they talk, they share, they take an extra moment to care and ask someone, "How are you"...and they really mean it! One does not get that kind of attention in the world...at least not in Washington, DC. ;)

James pretty muched summed it up, though, with talk of growth, guidance, activisim...church is there to guide us all the way and nudge us into things like stewardship and action...many things that we ought to do but sometimes are uncomfortable to do.