Sunday, June 14, 2009

Christ's Church, Then and Now

There have been, in recent years, several "grass roots" movements that have been
encouraging Christians to look at "church" in new ways; among their agendas are
things like leaving behind "organized religion (for dis-organized religion?),
focusing more on social issues, laying aside the great old hymns of the faith in
favor of more "modern" music, and de-emphasizing "restrictive" and "negative"
theological themes like damnation and sin in order to project more "positive" themes
like love and compassion and freedom-in-Christ... They call themselves things like
"Acts29" churches, "the Emerging Church", etc., and they promote a new vision of
Church with catch-phrases like "freedom living", "Church outside the walls", and
"a new kind of Christian" (which is also a book I've read and wouldn't recommend)...

There may be some value in these trends; few people would argue that "Church" as
we have traditionally understood the term has done a great deal of harm to the name
of Jesus, and at times has been about anything BUT Jesus, even perpetrating crimes
against humanity in His name (e.g., inquisitions, heresy trials, witch burning, etc.).
Even in more modern times, often the Church has turned a deaf ear to the pain and
suffering of the world around it, pronouncing judgement on "sinners" and condemning
the "cultural decay" it sees outside its doors.

But for all its mis-steps and failures through the centuries, the Church is still
the "Bride of Christ", and remains the central mechanism by which God works to make
Saints out of sinners. The New Testament Church was originally comprised of a
community of people who believed that Jesus Christ had recently lived among them,
was killed, and who bodily and literally rose from death and would return again some day.

That group -- this new "church" -- suffered tremendously for their faith in Jesus;
virtually all of the apostles were tortured and killed, and for hundreds of years after
that, the foundational growth of the church was soaked in the blood of martyrs
who also proclaimed this faith...

The Apostle's Creed includes the statement, "I believe in the holy catholic church";
Wikipedia comments on the word "catholic" like this:
    "Protestants sometimes use the term "catholic church" to refer to the entire body of
    believers in Jesus Christ across the world, and across the ages.

    Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and some Methodist Christians hold that
    their churches are catholic in the sense that they are in continuity with the
    original catholic (universal) church founded by the apostles."

So the universality of belief in Jesus Christ -- as the Risen Lord, as One
with God, and as the Sacrifical Lamb -- has been the defining characteristic of the
Church since the very beginning.

It is this belief, shared by this community, that binds us together
with those 1st-century Christians. And in this community we are to wash one another's
feet, partake of the Lord's Supper together, and worship God -- in reverence and awe --
even as we welcome other sinners to join us and be reborn and remade.

Fads and trends come and go; preferences in worship styles are sometimes important;
and Truth and sound doctrine must never be diluted or compromised, no matter how
distasteful or unpopular these may be to the world. But as we imagine ourselves reaching
across Time to grasp the hands of Christians in all ages, we can affirm -- quietly, with
bowed heads and humble hearts -- that we are HIS Church, remembering "the love the Father
has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" 1 John 3:1

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