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Is a church, The Church? Why Do We Operate As If It Were So?

Devotional Thought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him
7  Was I wrong when I humbled myself and honored you by preaching God’s Good News to you without expecting anything in return? 8  I “robbed” other churches by accepting their contributions so I could serve you at no cost. 9  And when I was with you and didn’t have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone. For the brothers who came from Macedonia brought me all that I needed. I have never been a burden to you, and I never will be. 2 Corinthians 11:7-9 (NLT)

212  Hominem non habeo— I have no one to help me. This—unfortunately!— could be said by many who are spiritually sick and paralytic, who could be useful— and should be useful. Lord: may I never remain indifferent to souls.

Last night in our Bible Study, we talked a great deal about the verses that are listed above.  It was a pretty stimulating conversation, and it had me thinking last night, and this morning while I worked out, and into writing this blog today.  Recent conversations about the church here in the USA as compared to what we consider the mission field, also entered the thoughts.   So to the talks about the rise of both denominationalism and congregationalism that I’ve given in the course I am teaching presently.

The conversation last night wasn’t about the church in Corinth and the issues where Paul had to correct their errant thoughts.  Instead the conversation ended up focusing on the sacrificial attitude of those churches, and that of Paul himself.  Because they gave, not of their abundance, but rather before they thought of their own needs.  To help another congregation, another “church”.  But why?  The Corinthians had everything in abundance, they had more money, more “names” (look at the discussion about all the ministers that had worked there!)  The churches that gave?  They had little.

But they still gave, that others could minister to the church in Corinth.

Why?

Because of the gospel, because of the love of God was the answer, after a couple of moments of thought.  Because they saw a brother in need, and knew the power of the gospel and the change it would make in the life of the Corinthians.  That the church in Corinth needed Paul more than they did, and they saw that need and met it.  Even though it meant they would do without.  Paul would go on his journeys, knowing that he could be beaten and tortured and eventually would be killed.

For the sake of the church.  That people would know the joy of God’s presence, the exhilaration that comes from knowing you are loved.

Corinth needed that, they needed to know God in the way the other churches did.  Those churches who didn’t see the church as their congregation, but considered the church as those who make up the entire family of God.  That is why they could sacrifice for people they didn’t know, That is why they would respond to meet Paul’s needs, knowing the effect of Paul’s ministry there.  Knowing how Paul taught them, as he wrote to the church in Ephesus,

3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)

Let’s face it – denominationalism and congregationalism are “isms”, (no matter how they are justified by other titles, like brotherhood, association, the label – “non-denom” or my own group’s “synod”)  Although often started with a major issue, rather than resolve it, we just get comfortable in our “group” and shut out others.  When we get comfortable there, when we use our separation to justify our in-action, our hoarding of our own gifts and talents and abilities, Please don’t get me wrong – there are times where, because of the gospel, because of those who would pervert the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ – there is a separation.  But to allow that separation to become the status quo, to isolate ourselves into smaller and smaller groups, behind this leader or that, is wrong.

Last night, we primarily talked about this, not in view of denominatalism, but in terms of congregational autonomy.  We aren’t separate from our sister churches in the area, we need to work together, even if it begins with only us.  To work with those we are in fellowship with, to work with those who will work beside us, to test doors to see if they are open.  To pray for the doors that are slammed in our face, grieving over them.

TO see the church, not as just our congregation, but as His one, holy, catholic (universal/united) apostolic (misisonal) Church.

And to plan or prioritize and work with the spread of Christ’s saving us from sin, and making us holy as the core of what we do.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1095-1098). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

A plea for the end of kind of idolatry – “congregational-ism/denominational-ism/nondenominational-ism”

Devotional thought of the Day:

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.. Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)

427 What a sorry state someone is in when he has marvellous human virtues but a total lack of supernatural outlook, because he will apply those virtues quite easily to his own selfish ends. Meditate on this.(1)

Yesterday, I found myself wanting to respond to a post of a friend of mine.  I actually had already my counter to her point, with a carefully laid out response and reasoning to why she was wrong and I was right.  Just before I hit the button, I realized that my post was wrong, not because it countered hers, but that it countered what I well know.   She claimed that her church was the best, and I wanted to counter that it was fifth in line, right behind the 4 I’ve pastored.

There is only “one church”. or if you please “One Church”.

It’s the one we confess in the creeds, the one church through which the Holy Spirit calls and gathers people, where the waters of baptism cleanses them from sin, where the Holy Spirit works through word and the sacraments.

One church. Not just Concordia Lutheran, or Shepherd of the Valley, or First Christian, or Saddleback or even the Roman Catholic Church, but one church,  Made up of sin-shattered, broken people who find restoration as they are united to Christ.   We must recognize the brokennes, we need to talk through the issues, we need to mourn the division.  We can’t just hide them, or say to each other, “we just have to agree to disagree”  Otherwise the unity isn’t real…

There is still only one church, united in the death of Christ, brought together by the Holy Spirit in peace that only comes from knowing we exist in the presence of God.  In the loving presence of God.  That is where unity begins, at the cross, in the death of Christ Jesus.

I put the quote from St Josemaria in this post for a reason, the reason that if unity is to occur in the church, it has to be supernatural, it has to be because we trust in Christ to create it, and we realize He has. We just do not see it, perhaps because we focus so much on what divides us, and we get defensive if we think we are going to be proven wrong. Perhaps I should say I get defensive…. or I get offensive when I know I am right – and think that everyone else’s journey must be the same sort of twisted journey that I’ve had.  Again the temptation is to make me the norm, (or for you to make you the norm) rather than making it Christ.

You see, when we forget that there is one church, we begin to make idols of our congregations, of our denominations, or even of our “non-denominatiolism”.  We can acknowledge our errors, and the struggles, and the division, but we cannot triumph over others, or treat them as if somehow God doesn’t love them as much, or that they are inferior.   ( My own denominaiton does this, when they say, “we may not be perfect, but we ar the best thing going”  When we do this, we begin to think territorally, we begin to think what is best for our little part of the church, rather than what is best for all the churches around us. We horde talent, rather than seeking where God would use each of us.   Let me give and example – Our church has a number of skilled keyboardists, and they all love playing with my music director.  We had sent out one of our deacons, who is now a seminary student while serving as a student pastor.  He needed a keyboard player… we had several… so it worked out that one of ours helped out.  But what if churches with great sunday school staffs, or great youth programs or great senior programs actually invested their people in other churches?  What would happen then?

What would happen if we treated the church as a whole, even if just within our own denominations to start?  If we shared and worked together, and struggled with those who aren’t like us?

What if we heard Jesus’ prayer that we may be one, even as the Trinity is one?  What if we heard Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus, and the church in Rome and the church in Corinth?

Can we stop the idolatry? Can we celebrate together in Christ?

Can we pray and strive together… working through that which divides us, realizing that what unites us is more important?

BTW – for people in my own beloved LCMS – this isn’t something new or odd.  read the words below…

Though God desires that all congregations be orthodox, and though all heterodox communions exist only by God’s sufferance and contrary to God’s gracious will, still it is a fact that also in the heterodox communions there are believing children of God. The term “Christians” covers a wider field than the term “orthodox Christians.” Though Christ denies to the Samaritan Church the right of existence as a separate church organization (John 4:22), still He repeatedly acknowledged individual Samaritans as true children of God (Luke 17:16 ff; 10:33). Luther, too, never thought of making the orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, coextensive with the Una Sancta. Vigorously as he fights against the Papacy and expressly declares it an institution of Satan, he nevertheless does not doubt that God has at all times under the Papacy preserved for Himself a Church, yes, the elite of the Christians.31 Again, earnestly as Luther fights against Carlstadt, Zwingli, and their collaborators for their deviation from God’s Word, he nevertheless grants that there were also true children of God who, ignorant of the evil they were thus supporting, made common cause with these pseudo reformers (St. L. IX:44). Likewise our older Lutheran dogmaticians, “zealots for orthodoxy” though they were, nevertheless decidedly rejected identification of the Una Sancta Ecclesia with the orthodox Lutheran Church.32 The Fathers of the Missouri Synod declare it a calumny when the Lutheran Church is accused of identifying the Church of God with the Lutheran Church.33 They taught: If a person sincerely clings to the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, if he believes that God is gracious to him because of Christ’s satisfactio vicaria, he is a member of the Christian Church, no matter in which ecclesiastical camp he may be. By denying this truth one would overthrow the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, the article of justification. Walther: According to Rom. 3:28 and Acts 4:12 “the unconditional and sole requirement for salvation is fellowship with Christ through faith. The maxim, ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation,’ ‘He who has not the Church on earth for his mother has not God in heaven for his Father,’ is true only in this sense, that outside the invisible Church there is no salvation and no state of grace. It has only this meaning that ‘there is no salvation outside Christ’; for whoever is not in inward fellowship with the believers and saints is not in fellowship with Christ either. On the other hand, whoever is in fellowship with Christ is in fellowship also with all those in whom Christ dwells, that is, with the invisible Church. Accordingly, he who restricts salvation to fellowship with any visible Church therewith overthrows the article of the justification of a poor sinner in the sight of God by faith alone in Jesus Christ.” (Walther and the Church, p. 70.) Pieper, F. (1953). Christian Dogmatics (electronic ed., Vol. 3, pp. 423–425). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

 

(1)  Escriva,Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1908-1910). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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