This post is written as a response to the provocatively simple question asked on the Acts8 Facebook page whose mission is to proclaim Resurrection in the Episcopal Church.
Why the Church?
It is a deceptively simple question with a host of answers. The simplest of which is that it is commanded, prayed, and longed by the Holy Trinity into existence. The Church has existed before the dawn of humanity – from the foundation of the world. As the Trinity’s mutuality was born the Church came into existence because that interplay of Love is the very heart of the Church.
The Church exists at that most fundamental level of cosmic ordering. Yet, what is the role of the visible Church today?
First, and foremost, she is the vessel of salvation. This sounds like an authoritarian and needlessly authoritative claim in an era of interfaith dialogue and multi-faith communities. Yet, the simple notion holds within it the essence of the Church’s multi-layered role.
Whether it is in making known the decisive saving action of Christ laid bare on the Cross or as a sign of a still better way, the Church exists to proclaim the salvation of humanity. That salvation can be understood in manifold ways – yet Jesus is the Way. We can differ on the precise nature of this saving action but we cannot debate that we are given the clear word that, by Love, Christ has come that all might be free.
This proclamation has been the source of endless turmoil and even abuse – that abuse is not of the Way. By word and example we are to be the light that shines in the life of the many, many who fear that their only companion is darkness.
This is not about right doctrine but about right relationship between humanity and God. That right relationship is modeled within the Church and between the Church and society. The Church’s primary function is first and foremost the adoration of God who loves us. Out of that adoration for our Creator flows an adoration for that which He loves – our fellow men and women.
Springing forth from God’s own generosity is the welcome to holy living that is Baptism. Out of God’s own self-offering comes the Feast of the Eucharist. From God’s own forgiveness comes the work of Reconciliation. Out of God’s own love comes the commitment of Marriage. With God’s gift of reason comes our response to God’s welcome in Confirmation. From God’s own call to holy community and service comes Ordination. Remembering God’s own promise of eternal life comes Healing and Last Rites.
Before the shape of our doctrine came a command to take and eat as the first Eucharists were offered in Remembrance before the books of the Bible were chosen and the Nicene Creed was written. In that Feast is offered the form, function, and hope of the Church. The Church, existing before humanity even realized it, offers the hope of partaking in the more that is of God. So we pray for more.
We exist to pray.
We adore God and we pray. We pray for the living. We pray for the dead. We pray for the lost and the lonely. We pray for the aching and those who despair. We pray for the strength to labor and the courage to forfeit control. We pray for guidance and for the wisdom to lead. We pray with thanks and with trembling. We pray for forgiveness and for the courage to forgive. We pray.
We pray as martyrs and as cowards. We pray as those who carry crosses and as those who shout “Crucify.” We pray as sheep and shepherds. As those who mourn and those who weep for joy. We pray with one voice and with many dreams. We pray for justice and for mercy. We pray.
We pray with voices that have cracked at hospital beds. We pray with hands that have held tiny fingers as new life came to be. We pray with hearts that swell, brows that sweat, and ears that ache for loving kindness. We pray.
We pray that we can be evangelists, priests, prophets, stewards, and heralds. We pray that we can be sign, symbol, and living Sacrament. We pray that we can be the Church.
Pingback: Why the Church? | The Anglican Atlantan
This your article riminds me the ecclesiology of Fr Nicolas Afanassieff.
Tom Poelker said:
I think that you have missed the fundamental nature of church.
The English language is part of the problem, because “church” does not at all reflect the scriptural term, “ecclesia”, whose closest English equivalent might be “gathering”. Individual Christians are gathered into supportive groups.
While individual Christians are called to follow “The Way” which both is and was taught by Christ, they gather together for the needed mutual support for living that holy way in a very unholy world, where instead of loving their neighbors they are encouraged to compete with them, to win more than anyone else, to take care of themselves and their own, rather than loving their neighbors and caring for those in any kind of need. Living as a Christian is simply difficult in a world which worships wealth and entertainment instead of the eternal, loving God.
The reason why there is church is to be the support group for those attempting to make their individual lives conform to the way of Jesus taught in the Christian Scriptures. You say many things about the means the church has created and transmitted to do this task, but I ask you to distinguish the end from the means. The church is a community in support of those engaged in the hard work of living according to Jesus. That is its purpose.
To value and evaluate church correctly we need to be clear that its purpose is not to maintain itself as an institution or to act upon society or to perpetuate specific forms of prayer, but to support individuals, We should leave the church buildings not feeling that we have served God but feeling that God and our fellows have provided support in what we know is difficult, living every moment of our lives as Christian.
Why Church? So that people are strengthend in Christian living.
Norman Hutchinson said:
I agree with your reply to the original post. I would only provide one caution to your comments. You say, “To value and evaluate church correctly we need to be clear that its purpose is not to … act upon society …” In the sense that the Church should promote peace and love and should be active in improving the societies that individuals live in by feeding the hungry, supporting orphans and widows, etc the Church does need to act upon society.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
Tom Poelker said:
I only say “the church” is not meant to act upon society because I believe that society will be changed by the actions of individual Christians in their voting, their buying, their giving of time, talent, and treasure, and in their everyday examples of loving their neighbors because of their faith in Jesus. The Church is meant to support the individuals, not to act on society directly, or even to teach society, but to enlighten each others as members of the People of God, each called to be priestly, prophetic, and royal heirs of God. As a product of the RCC, perhaps I am overly sensitive to issues of institutionalism and clericalism which makes me very careful to distinguish individual responsibilities and the call of the assembly to support the individuals rather than act as an organization.
John Lake said:
Your comments are much appreciated. You’re one smart man!! Please keep them coming!
Peace and Blessings’
As usual, a very thoughtful piece. But I was unable to find the acts8 page on Facebook. Is it private?
Hello Patrick – this should take you to their Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/Acts8Moment?ref=br_tf