What Is the Church?

I don’t know if your experience is the same as mine, but God tends to speak to me in the midst of “perfect storms.” What I mean is, a lot of things converge in a more-than-coincidence time–books, articles, sermons, conversations, new friendships, whatever.

Most recently, the subject has been the church. And here’s a brief list of the things that have been adding to this particular storm.

  • Ongoing conversations with two coworkers about what the church is, how it should look, and what it should do in the world;
  • The most recent issue of Christianity Today, which contains an article about the Russian Orthodox Church, a review of Simon Chan’s ecclesiology, and a difficult column by moral philosopher David Gushee;
  • the scandal and resignation of Ted Haggard from leadership of the NAE and New Life Church, and the memory of a sermon he preached about sin and the church;
  • Mark Driscoll’s response to the Haggard revelations at The Resurgence
  • a sermon I heard at Ivy Creek Church on our first visit, dealing with Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17-38.

A couple of quotes from the Gushee column, which was the big stick for me:

Generally speaking, American evangelicals have a poorly developed theology of the church. We also produce a variety of expressions of church life that do not emphasize rigorous moral commitment. Our pietistic individualism creates a “Jesus and me” ethos that often weakens any loyalty to the community of faith or any willingness to submit to a disciplined covenantal vision. The church is where I go to get my spiritual needs met—you have no right to tell me what to do as I pursue that quest.

The suggestion here is almost the addition of a new sola: sola mio. The elimination of accountability and the growing distance in our churches as they get bigger and bigger won’t make holiness any easier. In fact, they may represent the greatest danger faced by the church of the third millenium.

Is there a direct correlation between our declining confidence in the church and our growing engagement with politics? The more we find it hopeless to think that we can actually create and sustain disciplined communities of faith, the more we spend our time on political activities. We may not be able to get self-identified Christians to obey the Word of God, but we might be able to leverage our political clout to elect “our people” to Congress.

Ouch. On election eve, hearing words like this cuts to the quick. I’m not exactly Mr. Political, but I confess to falling into the government will have to fix it-protect it-outlaw it mentality. As Gushee notes, that doesn’t jibe with the New Testament witness.  The church’s message has always been and must continue to be: Jesus is the only satisfactory answer to humanity’s problems.

One thought on “What Is the Church?”

  1. I like the Gushee quote about a community of faith. I find myself feeling like a silo in my faith. While being alone in my faith is not true, our culture lends itself to individuality. But being apart of a community creates an environment for growth, fellowship, and if need be, reproach.

    Last Sunday, Rev. John Lin from Redeemer Presbyterian talked about sin as something that affects the entire community, not just one person. In light of present circumstances, I couldn’t agree more. What I do and how I choose to live my life matters to those around me.

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