Category Archives: Springboard

The Name

There is a conversation–some might even say a debate–concerning the nature of the church.  What is it?  How does it function?  How might we define it?  These questions, of course, each have multiple answers.  It’s not going to be an “all of the above” sort of answer, because there are certain things that the church is not.  I don’t think it useful, right now, to define the church by what it’s not.

The conversation takes us between “Church as an institution” and “Church as an organism.”  I remember that we had this discussion in Church History 1 or Historical Theology 1, or (more likely) in both.

The bottom line, of course, is that the church is both.  It is an institution and it is an organism.  Here I welcome any thoughts, but in my own opinion we find elements of each.

We have an organism: something that is living, growing, at times even declining.  It goes through changes and develops to meet the needs of each new generation.  It is made of living human beings which make up the Body of Christ, no part of which is complete without the others.

We have an institution: something that contains a hierarchy of leadership, statutes and stipulations, canons and codes of discipline.  It changes based on the decisions of committees and governing boards.  In many ways the church acts as a business, with revenue and marketing and a need to sustain itself.

There are elements of both an institution and an organism within what we call church.  Some of us may prefer one construct over the other.  I see it as both.  Because of the tradition I am a part of, I more readily label the church as an institution.  But if it truly is an instution, it is an uncommon one.  The church here on earth is meant to be reflection of the heavenly banquet and mansions and communion and kingdom which we will one day share with all the saints when heaven and earth are one.

I cannot think of a better way to describe this uncommon institution than in the words of Peter Chrysologus.  Commenting on Luke 12:32 (“Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”), Chrysologus wrote:

The flock is little in the eyes of the world, but great in the eyes of God.  It is little–because he calls glorious those whom he has trained to the innocence of sheep and to Christian meekness.  The flock is little, not as the remnant of a big one, but as one which has grown from small beginnings.  This little flock denotes the infancy of his newborn church, and immediately he promises that through the blessings of heaven this church will soon have the dignity of his kingdom.

This is an uncommon institution.

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Expanding the Scope (The Springboard)

I’ve decided to add a third part to the introduction, which will help me spring into content rather than planning my time away.

A simple sentence in a short glossary does not suffice.  I struggle to define the church myself.  It’s not something we’re necessarily called to do, anyway.  Christians are called to be a part of the church.  If we try to genuinely define it or analyze the church, I would think that the best account of what the church is would come from within.  The issue, of course, is that we all have different backgrounds and histories within what we call church.

This is a blog about that: what we call church.  I’m beginning to expand the scope of my inquiry.  Church is the simplest way, I think, that we refer to both what we do on Sunday mornings and the network of Christian communities which make up what Paul calls the Body of Christ.  I could use two different terms to distinguish what I’m talking about.  “Church” could refer to what people do on Sunday mornings, while “Body of Christ” could refer to the worldwide community of faith.  But I think there’s a richness lost if we distinguish the two concepts this way.

What we do on a Sunday morning – let’s call it worship, for now – is meant to be a reflection of what the wider community of faith is engaged in.  When we participate in worship or liturgy on a Sunday morning, we are engaging in church.  We are uniting with other believers in lifting up our voices to God in prayer and praise, both of which are done in many different ways in different denominations.  There’s more to be said about this, and it will be dealt with starting this week.

In articulating my understanding of the church (both worship and the Body of Christ), I will engage in the voices of two prominent Anglican thinkers: Michael Ramsey, 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, and his The Gospel and the Catholic Church, and Paul Avis’ The Anglican Understanding of the Church.  Through reading these and engaging with them, I hope to be able to articulate a general idea of my own understanding of the church, and to use that as my starting point when trying to understand other denominations.  This serves two purposes: (1) I have a point of comparison, and (2) when I am confronted with something different, either starkly or subtly, I can evaluate and thereby change or strengthen my own convictions.

I’m not afraid of different, and I welcome anything that will challenge me.  I can’t promise that I’ll always respond well, but over time and through perseverence it can only help lead us all to a better and deeper understanding of who we are and how we live.

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