Tuesday, January 17, 2006
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?