For a few weeks now my mind has been caught up in the issue of the church - the body of Christ here on earth. With all of its manifest problems, dysfunctions, and frustrations, is it an utterly unique and uniquely empowered institution that has survived centuries of abuse and neglect. God has chosen to create the church, both universal and local, to be the conduit for his will and work here on earth. The church manifests God's kingdom now before it comes in its fullness on the day of the Lord.
So, what makes the church an utterly unique institution? Here are just a few thoughts to prime the pump of your own reflections. We are starting a longer and in-depth study of the Church on our Sunday nights at LHC beginning this weekend (Sunday, September 29th, 2013, 6:00pm) and you are welcome to come or listen in on the audio once each week is posted.
The Gospel of Christ
While there are a lot of organization that come alongside the church (parachurch organizations) to help proclaim the gospel, it is the church that exists as the locus in a community where the gospel in total is preached and lived. Beyond these organizations, however, there are none which are dedicated to the good news that Jesus Christ is God in flesh, that he lived, died, and rose again to secure salvation for "whosoever will." As useful and helpful as other institutions can be within a society, none of them teach the gospel the church is tasked to teach.
As with the proclamation of the gospel, there are many organizations dedicated to teaching and propagating Christian doctrine, but none of them in the ways that belong to the church, especially the local church. Ideally, good doctrine is preached at church. Then, a group of people who have dedicated themselves to these truths and to each other go and live out their daily lives. Eventually it will become clear to them all that there are significant connections between the two and they will begin to encourage each other and hold each other accountable for the living of their beliefs. Coming together on a regular basis becomes the training ground for the connection between what Christians believe and what they do.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper
Where else on earth are these two ordinances of the church practiced - especially when we understand them as acts which portray central elements of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
A Moral Mooring
My wife recently had a conversation with an old friend from another church background. Her friend noted that her views about sexuality (and other things) had "changed with the times" and that she was comfortable at her current church because her pastor "was real" and easy to listen to. Knowing a few of the details behind the conversation, it was easy to draw a direct line between how easy her church was to attend with how easily her moral views had changed with the cultural pressures around her.
A local assembly of people who call themselves a church and yet is willing to "change with the times" on central and important moral issues places a question mark at the end of their self-designation as a church. A church is rooted in not just the doctrine once and for all delivered to the saints, but to a particular moral vision of humanity and creation founded on the unchanging nature of the God.
Our moral and doctrinal foundations lead us to recognize the need for discipline within the church. Deciding what we believe about God or how we behave with each other is not up to us as individuals - a contemporary heresy if ever there was one. And since the church teaches and lives its doctrine and beliefs, it is incumbent upon us to exercise discipline and restoration where possible. Not every belief about God is right, not every behavior between people is good.