The community of Christ is being built

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19, NIV)

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The need for the Church

In my spiritual journey toward the Anglican Church, I have had for years a hunger for a better theology of the Church (ecclesiology). I tried to bring that emphasis into my ministry context as I was learning, but the overall structure I was in simply didn’t aid to that emphasis. I served in a denomination that was incredibly poor in their ecclesiology and that was a counter-weight I couldn’t overcome.

Continue reading “The need for the Church”

Theology becomes therapy

Following up on my re-read for Chan’s book Liturgical Worship has come my re-visit to Harper and Metzger’s book Exploring Ecclesiology. 

Written by evangelicals, it is an excellent tool for me as I re-think ecclesiology in my own life.

In the chapter dealing with “The Church as a Serving Community” they still bring forward the evangelical concern of “preaching the Word.” Their conclusion, though, is that even though we’ve called ourselves “evangelical” based on “preaching the Word,” for several decades now we’ve done everything BUT preach the Word. We’ve slid into preaching self-help.

The ultimate consequence of Christianity centered on personal issues and self-improvement is that theology becomes therapy, the search for righteousness is replaced by the search for happiness, holiness by wholeness, and truth by feeling, and God’s sovereignty is diminished to whatever it takes to have a good day. Christians become consumers who shop the church like they do a shopping mall, delighted to find something to meet every felt need.

There is a serious need for an increase in biblical teaching and literacy. And it’s not just an evangelical problem anymore.

The immense value of the Church

I am enjoying a bit more time for reading, so this summer I am revisiting some recent gems I’ve read on ecclesiology. I walked through Simon Chan’s Liturgical Worship last week. This week it is Exploring Ecclesiology by Harper and Metzger. Chan is a Pentecostal while Harper and Metzger are evangelical. Their journey helps me frame my own journey.

In my own “tribe” we are poor on ecclesiology. The church has become something that caters to my needs. As I pastor, I am supposed to go find out what people outside the walls need in the way of a service (and services) to come darken the doors of my church building. If I, as a believer, don’t find a church that “meets my needs,” I am free to wonder on to the next one.

The church as a unit, a body, a family, just simply has escaped us as evangelicals. Maybe we like our church, meaning the one we try to get to on a Sunday, but often we have no idea what it means to love the Church, the Body of Christ. As a matter of fact, if we can somehow detach ourselves from it, and then make fun of it, all the better. The more angst driven we are about the Church, the better it plays on social media.

But we need the Body. Just as we need the Head, the Head needs the Body. You don’t get to worship a “head” sitting on a table.

So, as I work my way through Harper and Metzger’s book, I will probably put up some interesting quotes from them.

For today:

The church becomes the new family unit because it is God’s family unit, God’s household, and God dwells in its midst… Jesus shares his name with us and makes the church a dwelling place in which God dwells through his Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16).

The church is into mass production rather than fine art

I am working my way again through Simon Chan’s marvelous book, Liturgical Theology. As a Pentecostal scholar who calls us back into the deep “traditions” of the Church, I have found this book to be a refreshing read over the years. Chan doesn’t pull punches.

He wants us to return to Cyprian’s goal of saying one who doesn’t have the Church as their Mother cannot call God their Father. Bold stuff for a Pentecostal.

The current “thought of the day” out of this book is his reminder of “mission.” We have been preoccupied with numbers, so we forget our mission. We think our mission is soul-winning. It is not. We are the Body of Christ demonstrating the power of the Kingdom in this world. It is far beyond counting noses at an altar call.

Worship should mark us as different. Worship should look different. It’s not about the entertainment factor. We are called to worship in spirit and in truth.

Mission does not seek to turn sinners into saved individuals; it seeks, rather, to turn disparate individuals into a worshiping community. The preoccupation of the modern church with numbers often misses the real goal of mission. Instead of turning out find works of art, the modern church tends to model its mission on the mass-production factory. The church becomes an efficiently run factory. We then market the megachurch as the model of a successful church. Is it any wonder that grandiose strategies of winning the world for Christ have produced a bloated church whose ways and values are not very different from those of the world? The ministry becomes departmentalized… mission is left to church-growth specialists, counseling is done by professionally trained counselors, and the pastor serves as CEO. (p. 45)

Let us worship. Let us produce pieces of fine art in this world… and leave the mass production to the cheap tricks of this world!

The Church Forward and Backward

I wish to speak in favor of the Church. Warts and all. Mistakes and all. Crazies and all.

I wish to speak in favor of the Church because it is the body of Christ and he is the Head. I do not wish to worship a bodiless Head.

I wish to speak in favor of the Church because it is human. When one part is “attacked” with some angst-filled rage in hopes of getting noticed on some angst-filled site like the Huff and Puff Post… that attack is against me… and against people I know and love. People I don’t know yet, but I know Christ loves them and by that relationship, I find a way to love as well. People I can’t actually stand, but because they’re family… I have to find a way… Oh, you get the picture.

The Church as a whole will have a look of constantly being “out of step” because it is out of step. It is at once forward in its look and action… quite ahead of culture… and also backward in its look and action… because what is “forward” in a culture isn’t always Kingdom.

When we fill a post with angst filled rage against “the Church” it’s not because we’re actually angry and “the Church.” We’re angry at our sliver of the Church. It’s probably legitimate in some way.

But I wish to speak in favor of the beautiful Bride of Christ. It is a glorious Church and will be grand one day. There are moments when parts are grand today. It IS a glorious Bride our Bridegroom is making ready. HE loves us… and I wish to follow my Lord in that love as much as I can stand it.

It is the Church… out of step… forward in so many ways… and backward… Beautiful… Loved by her Savior… walking toward him as best she can.

Missing theology

One of the least developed areas of theology in the evangelical church is ecclesiology. We just don’t quite know what to do about this whole concept of the Church. We know about “local church”… maybe. We are so bent on “me and Jesus” and those who theologically agree with me 100 percent… the whole idea of “church” just doesn’t get into our practice or thought.

Simon Chan, in Spiritual Theology, writes that part of the problem is evangelicals have focused so heavily on “the priesthood of all believers,” we’ve severely watered down the idea of church. The goal of the priesthood of all believers was noble. It should have lifted up all believers to have a hunger for spiritual activity and ministry. Instead, it has reduced us to the lowest common denominator.

“We wanted to make everyone in the church into robust saints but succeeded only in making mostly mediocre ones.”

Barth and Church Authority

As I continue to wonder if I’m reading Barth correctly, I am struck by his trust of the Church. He is Reformed, so the authority of the Church is not as encompassing as the Catholic view. Still, he believes in the authority of the Church.

Church authority is spiritual authority: in all its forms it rests on the fact that there and here, then and now, two decisions meet in obedience to the Word of God and constitute one of these unities of common confession.

Church authority is not a matter of trusting just one opinion. It is the reasoning together, but trusting the result because it is directed by the Holy Spirit.

This is a difficult concept for modern/post-modern cultures. It is evident from the ultra-conservative to the ultra-liberal wings of Christianity. On the ultra-conservative side we have John MacArthur with his new book on “Slaves” for Christ. His premise is not a bad one, but how he markets the book is terrible. He talks about a “conspiracy theory” to cover up the translation of the word “slave.”

On the ultra-liberal side, well take your pick: Bart Ehrman, a multitude of “emergent” theologians, “Bishop” Spong, et al. The conspiracy is the “cover up” over how the canon was formed in the first place, or something else.

We simply find it hard to trust. It’s our new DNA.

For Barth there is a sense of understanding that the Church is human. There are disagreements. Yet, godly people can reach godly decisions. From the Canon of Scripture to confessions of the Church, discussion takes place and the faith delivered once for all to the saints somehow keeps moving forward.

We wrestle with our confessions from time to time. As Barth points out, sometimes our unity has to be “rediscovered.” So, the Church looks for more accurate ways to express the faith. It’s a process. Yet, we must move forward in trust.

I trust the Church. I trust the Head of the Church. While I chafe at the pragmatism of my denomination, I also trust the faith of the early saints in my movement. I can argue the pragmatism. I trust the faith delivered. It’s what causes me to rejoice in the Church as a local body, and the Church universal. I trust MY church… the local body. I love the Church universal as well.

Trust needs to be re-established. Therefore, I want to make some really odd declarations of trust:

1. In regards to Bible translations, I trust the men and women who work hard to do the best job possible to bring a good translation forward. Over the years I have watched the NIV go from something outdated and frustrating to something I can use. Knowing who is on the translation team, I trust their commitment to the holy Scriptures.

I can settle in on translations because I choose to trust. There may be the disagreements over this word or that verse, but at the heart I find men and women who truly love God and want to do good work.

2. I trust the creeds. These are statements of faith that have been delivered by people who truly want to articulate faith. They had godly hearts and when it was all said and done they could say, “It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit.”

3. I trust the Body of Christ. I may disagree over methodology, but overall I find people who truly love the Lord. The Body of Christ is beautiful in the diversity of its forms. The unity isn’t found in having a single style of worship. The unity is found in Christ. It’s beautiful to see.

The Church has delivered the faith delivered once for all to the saints down through the centuries. It’s been a rough ride. Yet, here we are. I stand in that stream of trust desiring to move the faith forward to the next generation.