Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Your church?

Your church is near you.

Your church is for you.

Your church invites you.

Your church needs you.

I saw this on a local CofE Church noticeboard. What do you make of it? I wonder what the locals make of it. Its major failing is that it does require people to think and I wonder how many in our locale want to expend the intellectual energy in fathoming it out.

The main question one asks of this sign is, “for what purpose?” This can be added to each of those statements and I wonder if the church itself can answer that. This, of course, goes for all churches, parishes, missions and congregations of whatever stripe or colour or expression of Christianity.

Your church is near you for what purpose?
What good is it for a church to be near when people vote with their feet and with their car tyres? People these days shop for churches and find one that they like best. It may be the Holy Spirit guiding them, but it might also be the spirit of one’s preference. Of course, the perfect parish doesn’t exist and if it does, we shouldn’t join it! Yet, if there is such a great disparity between parishes that one can exercise choice, does this choice extend to what one believes? If there is a difference between what two parishes believe, can one be sure that this difference does not compromise one’s salvation? If not, then at least one of the parishes is heretical. What really counts is whether a church is near Christ rather than whether it is near an individual.

Your church is for you for what purpose?
In what sense can a church be for you? This ought to have an easy answer. The Church of God lifts up the chalice praying, “We here present to thee, O Lord, the Cup of Salvation : and of thy mercy grant that in the sight of thy divine majesty it may ascend as a sweet-smelling savour for our salvation, and that of all the whole world. Amen.” The Body of Christ was broken for us. The Church of God is for all of Creation, not just for individuals. How does the church exhibit that desire to save the whole world? How does it suffer with suffer with God at the rejection of His love? How does it seek to call people back to Him?

Yet, the words “for you” have several interpretations. “For you” could mean “on your behalf”, “for you to use”, “stands with you”. Of those, only the former really makes sense for the Church. The Church does not stand with anyone who preaches hatred and evil, but, like her creator, must sit and wait indefinitely and in pain for that person to repent and return. The Church is not something to be used for one’s pleasure since this puts the individual’s use above God’s purpose.

Your church invites you for what purpose?
One is often wary of invitations. Each advertisement is essentially an invitation to the consumer to try a product, and yet it would be a foolish consumer to try that product out without knowing what it is at the very least! “We invite you to stick your face in this fan” is not likely to meet with many takers (one would hope none!). So there must be some clear purpose in inviting people in and, for a church, this would have to be the Christian Faith. A church that invites people in to experience the Christian Faith must produce just that if it intends to keep people there. A church that is not clear about what it is inviting people in for may as well be advertising sticking one’s face in the fan.

However, will a church alter the product to suit the person coming in? Or will it alter the product to get people to come in? If so, then this runs the risk of gaining the world but losing the soul. If we invite people to the Last Supper, will they meet Christ? How can we be sure?

Your church needs you for what purpose?
Again, many people can be very suspicious of this statement. If the above three questions have not been sufficiently answered then the materialistic mantra of “what’s in it for me?” raises its head. For a materialist, what the Church offers is nothing at all. There is no worldly gain that comes from going to church other than meeting people and getting a warm glow at family functions. One does not need the Church to supply social opportunities or happy thoughts and many people seem to be able to find exactly these things elsewhere.

Of course, the local church needs a congregation to survive and, without the support of those dedicated to its growth, it will shrivel and die. This is more of a material need of the church. Yet the church needs only God to provide and if He does not want to provide then one must accept that. One then does have to question what provision God is giving and to what purpose. He will not give anything of true value to those who are simply not following His commandment. Even in times of dearth and famine, one can find that spring of living water welling up within from Christ Jesus himself. If that is not there, then there is a problem. We hear from Our Lord that, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

A church must expect death in order for it to grow but only in the right circumstances. The seed planted in the ground is the Body of Christ Himself which, when raised, procured the Resurrection and Salvation for the Church. Death can only be followed by life if one participates in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. This belief has to be central to the being of a church and indeed a reality for that church, not just a theory, a nice idea, or a clever story. Jesus really existed, really died and really rose again. If a church is not convinced of that, it cannot convince others.

The trouble with the English language is that it has lost any distinction between “tu” and “vos” i.e. singular and plural. When it says “your church” does it mean “ecclesia tua” or “ecclesia vestra”?

If the former, then I have already written about this before in conjunction with what it can mean to be "for you".
I like signs that make me think!

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