I know that this one is short, but it is rather packed with some large ideas. Thank you for reading this, I hope you enjoy it.
What is the Church?
In an era of western civilization when the formal church is in decline, I think this is an incredibly necessary question. Some may lament the exodus of people from the church, but perhaps they are leaving for completely justifiable reasons. Perhaps the church they were handed was really a club more than a church, or perhaps the church they saw growing up was one that, because of their fresh eyes, they could see its problem spots.
Sometimes organizations become rigid because they are attempting to maintain the status quo because it is easier to maintain that status quo than to actually look at the problem areas. Not only that, but since we are prone to identify ourselves according to the communities we are a part of or the titles they give us, it is communicated to us in some way or another “not to rock the boat.”
However, the health of any institution, including the church, can be measured by its ability to actively critique itself. Churches are prone to ignore this form of health just as families, relationships, businesses, political parties.
Any church that doesn’t know how to check itself for unhealth is already unhealthy. Many churches have already crumbled because their own people willfully ignored the cracks that needed attending. Sometimes, it is even a grace to the world that a church crumbles rather than continue on in its dysfunction and unhealth. Fortunately, there are some ancient writings that can help the modern church reflect on its identity and mission.
Well, the Nicene Creed tells us the church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.”
- It is one. Meaning, it is unified. Within this assembly, there is no room for racism, classism, sexism, ageism, elitism, etc.
- It is holy. Meaning, it is unique. This assembly operates by another set of norms, the Beatitudes that lead to grace, mercy, justice and love.
- It is catholic. Meaning, it is concerned with “the whole” of everything. This assembly understands that the faith is concerned with art, music, fishing, science, hiking, surfing, high school, middle school, retirement, orhpans, clean water, fossil fuels, poverty, linguistics, the hubble telescope, quantum physics and avocados. Quite seriously, this assembly cares about everything.
- And finally, it is apostolic. Meaning, it does not bunker in and only interact with its own people. No, it is sent outside of its own walls. The church is the only assembly that cares for those who are not a part of it.
To me, personally, the church is also a prophetic and pastoral community…
- That gives witness to the faithfulness of God as revealed by Jesus of Nazareth through the preaching of the word and giving of the sacraments.
- That seriously seeks to bind the wounded, heal the brokenhearted, to carry one another’s burdens, and give refuge to those that desperately need it.
- Of resistance to the cultural status quo.
- Of innovation, that engages in creative thinking and global problem solving.
- Not necessarily for answers but for better questions.
- Hubs of grassroots revolutionary activity for the kingdom and against racism, classism, sexism, ageism, elitism, etc.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach at my church. It was a privilege that they would trust me to deliver something worth hearing. The topic was the church, but even more than that, it was that the world needs to see a church that integrates the faith with every other sphere of life. To me, this is why “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” are four of the most unrealized adjectives describing the assembly of faith. In some sense, circles have overspiritualized the faith and thus made the church into an entity that really does not have much to do with the rest of the world. This failure to live an integrated life has caused the rest of the world to see the church as something that is holding, or worse, pulling the world backward instead of forward. Rather than being on the forefront of social, political, environmental and global concerns, the church has become fearful about its own continued existence. But as I mentioned before, perhaps it is that very view of the church that needs to die that it might remember its calling to join in on the Kingdom project initiated by that carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth.
To be a church that only cares about itself, and not the welfare of those outside of it or those that believe differently is heresy.
In fact, modern atheistic humanism may be closer to orthodox Christianity than modern views of Christianity if the church doesn’t remember its role to help the world to thrive and be well in every capacity.
Now that is a harrowing statement worth reflecting on.