Monday, September 29, 2008

What is the Church?

Today, there seems to be many different definitions of what the word Church means. Some believe that it is a single institution, while others believe that it is the Christian Body of Believers. Let's take some time to examine what we can learn from Scripture what the Church really is.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.(Matt 16:18).

Regardless how you feel about Peter, we can save that for another post, we can clearly see that God's Church will never be destroyed. It will never be overcome by the gates of Hades - Hell. So we know that Christs Church cannot be destroyed or conquered. This does not lead me to believe that the Church that Jesus is talking about here is the people that make up the Church. Throughout history, I am sure that we can make a case for someone who was a Christian, however they were overcome and destroyed.

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me"(John 17:20-23).

Jesus' prayer is for us to be one just as the Father and Jesus are one. We are supposed to be united together practicing and believing the same thing and the same way. The only way that this could be possible is if we were all being led by the same shepherd on Earth, teaching the same doctrine with the same belief since the time of Christ. Once again, this seems to be more evidence that the Church is less the people and more of an institution under which the people exist.

if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.(1 Tim. 3:15)

The Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. This once again, does not sound like Church in the sense of the people that make up the Church. I know for sure, that I am not the pillar and foundation of the truth - and I am sure that I have many friends and family that will witness to this fact.

Now, I do not believe that the Church is only the institution, and I do believe that there is evidence of that in scripture. As a matter of fact:

"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."(Eph. 1:22-23).

And we all know that Christians are baptized into the Body of Christ:

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."(1 Cor 12:27).

So the people do make up the Church which is also the Body of Christ. Before, this is where I would stop. I would stop here and say, see all Christians make up God's One True Church. There is an invisible veil surrounding all of the Christians on this Earth and we are living proof of the fulfillment of Jesus Prayer for Unity for evidence that He was sent by God - his Church here on Earth.

However, this idea of the Church being the people does not mesh very well, when it comes to the other Scriptures that I mentioned in this post. Namely, we are overcome by the forces from the Gates of Hades. There are Christians all over the world that have been conquered and destroyed by sin. We are not united as Christ is united with the Father. There are so many denominations in this world believing in so many different things with their own infallible interpretation of what Scripture says. We are not the pillar and foundation of truth. How many times have I lied today? if not to anyone else, but myself?

So what do I think the Church is? The Church would have to meet all of the descriptions that the Bible says it does - one (unity), holy (sacred), catholic (universal) and apostalic (coming from the Apostles).

2 comments:

TomJahncke said...

Hi Carlus and other readers out in cyber space :)

I need to start my reply with the fact that I am still a
little confused about your post.  I understand that you believe the Church is
more than the body of believers, mostly because of our sinful nature.  But I
don’t understand how you are defining the Church.  Can you clarify what the
church is in your definition? 

From talking to you in person I know we both believe the
church is more than a building but I wanted to get that clarified for anyone
out in cyber space reading this post. 

Before I give my reply I must give fair warning this might
be lengthy.  So, buckle your seat beat, fill your coffee cup - whatever it
might take to actually read this entire post. 

You stated, referring to Matthew 16:18:

It will never be overcome by the
gates of Hades - Hell. So we know that Christ’s Church cannot be
destroyed or conquered. This does not lead me to believe that the Church that
Jesus is talking about here is the people that make up the Church. Throughout history,
I am sure that we can make a case for someone who was a Christian, however they
were overcome and destroyed.


I’ll agree with you that Christians have been overcome and
destroyed, both Catholic and Protestant.  But does this really mean that the church
isn’t the people?  I don’t think so and let me explain.


I believe the church is the body of Christ.  Part of our
bodies may be sick and even die but the entire body isn’t dead.  From the
examples you used it is clear that one person can’t be the church.  In this we
agree.  The church is the body which is a collective unit of believers. 



I firmly believe that God would not let the church be
destroyed, which includes the people.  What would be the point in protecting
the church if people weren’t included? 



At the beginning of your post you encouraged us to look at
what the scriptures says on the topic which I admire and truly appreciate.  So,
far all I have done is given you my thoughts.  Here is some scripture to build
on. 



Acts
8:3
– “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he
dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”



I mention this verse for two reasons.  Paul was trying to
destroy the church by destroying people as they gather together.  However, what
is fascinating about God is he said he won’t let his church be destroyed.  So
what did he do with Paul?  He personally intervened on the road to Damascus. 



Quite often in the New Testament the Greek word we
translated into church is ekklēsia.  Here is WikiPedia’s
definition:



Ecclesia (lat) is a term
derived from the Greek noun ekklēsia
[εκκλησία], which literally means a
"calling out" of citizens, in an ancient Greek city-state, i.e. a
"called-out assembly" or gathering; usually defined as
"gathering of the called-out ones"[1]
or “gathering of those summoned”[2].
Theologically
it has been equated from the New
Testament
passages, originally written in Greek language, as the Church (though the origin of the term
"Church" is the Greek root kyriakon [from kyriake, kyriakos;
kyrios; kyros])[3]
and also as the Body of Christ, a view which reflects a deeper Spiritual
and invisible dimension into the use of the term Ecclesia
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesia)



Just based on the definition it at a minimum refers to
people.  I did some other reading of this word but in a effort to have some
remote chance of allowing people to finish reading this post and blogspot not
to reject it for length I am going to leave my findings out for now.   



To continue with the theme of God won’t let the church, the believers,
be destroyed here is an example from the OT. 



1 Kings 19:14 He [Elijah] replied,
"I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have
rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death
with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me
too."
1 Kings 19:18 [God speaking to
Elijah]“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed
down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."



Elijah felt everyone had rejected God and the faith was on
the verge of extinction.  Once again God is more powerful and truly more in
control than we often give Him credit. 



Why do I mention this? It is because I am not concerned that
the church, made of believers that form the body of Christ, could be destroyed
by the acts of men who go astray.



------  Take a breather, different point coming up ------



You also mentioned Jesus’s prayer from John 17:20-23.  I
fully agree that we need unity and that we should as his followers striving to
be one with Him and the Father.  I believe though that no man/woman will ever
get this perfect on this side of heaven. 



I also believe that no church will ever get this perfectly
either.  If you are indicating that you believe the Catholic Church has the
sole claim on truth and every other Christian denomination is shooting less
than par this is where I take issue.  (Please correct me if I misread between
the lines as you did not directly say this.)  As soon as any church, person, or
organization claims that are superior this does not lead to unity but to
division.  Universal statements are either broad, and having no value, or
divide people instead of unifying them.  Please don’t misunderstand me I don’t
believe we can just believe whatever what want and we are all set.  I believe we
must adhere to the core of the Christian faith.  What is that you might say …  John
14:6
is a fair summary -

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Way too often we get caught up
in minor differences in how we live out of faith that we can’t see the forest
through the trees.  It breaks my heart when I see people arguing over the
proper way to express one’s faith.  I wonder, are they arguing for God’s glory
or their own?   



You mentioned the verse from 1 Timothy



If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to
conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God,
the pillar and foundation of the truth.
(1
Tim. 3:15
)



I fully agree the church should be the pillar and foundation
of the truth.  I fully agree people don’t fully embody the pillar of foundation
and truth.  However, we can allow God to use us to point others to Him, who is
the pillar and foundation of the truth.  A major purpose of the church is to
point people towards God.  I am curious since the church is the pillar and the
foundation of truth you believe the church isn’t the people than how do people
see what the pillar and foundation of truth is? 



Here is a verse that I believe shows the importance of
individuals in God’s kingdom. 



Romans
10:14-15
states:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they
believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without
someone preaching to them? And how can they preach
unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of
those who bring good news!"



Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I hope it
brings about fruitful discussion that leads to unity as Jesus would want for
his believers.  Also, I hope this doesn’t make you hesitant to spur me on to
post to your blog I appreciate your encouragement to respond. 

For His Kingdom,

Tom

Carlus Henry said...

Tom,

Thanks for taking the time to follow up. I can tell that you really gave this a lot of thought, and I plan to honor that with an adequate response.

Can you clarify what the church is in your definition?

I do believe that the Church is the people that make up the Body of Christ. What I mean is that since there is only one faith, every baptized member of that faith joins the Body of Christ, and is therefore part of the same community.

I also believe that the Church is an institution of Christ to lead in all areas of faith and morals. The Church has always protected it's believers against false doctrine throughout the ages and therefore has an established governing body ultimately led by the Holy Spirit into all truth. It is not by man that she teaches, it is by the Holy Spirit.

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.(1 Cor. 2:13).

Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:(Acts 15:27-28).

The Holy Spirit works with the Apostles, Bishops, Presbyters in order to guide the people infallibly in these matters of faith and morals.

But does this really mean that the church
isn’t the people?


Yes. I too share the belief that the Church is the people. But I also believe that it is more than that as well - as I mentioned earlier.

You also mentioned Jesus’s prayer from John 17:20-23. I
fully agree that we need unity...I believe though that no man/woman will ever
get this perfect on this side of heaven.


It seems as though we are interpreting this scripture differently. You are making it seem as though we will not be united until we reach heaven. I don't believe that is what Jesus was praying for. He was specifically praying for unity here on Earth. If this was not the case, He would not have said:

I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.(John 17:23)

There really isn't any purpose to be brought to complete unity after death, in the context that Jesus is talking. Jesus is asking us to be in complete unity to let the world know. That means that he is talking about us being united here on Earth. Our unity is to be a witness to the world that God sent Jesus and God loves us. If anyone's prayer would be answered, it would be Jesus', right? The question we now should ask is where can this unity be found? Where can we go, pretty much anywhere in the world, and find the same Church?

If you are indicating that you believe the Catholic Church has the
sole claim on truth...


I do not believe that the Catholic Church has the sole claim of truth. (It is so funny, as Protestants, how we love to use the words "sole" and "only" as if things are more exclusive than inclusive. I am not knocking here, it is just an observation of mine.)

There are many denominations that have truth within them. I am claiming that the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth. I believe that Protestant Reformation removed too much and only kept those things that meshed well with our particular brand of theology. Things that went against what we believed, we removed.

As I mentioned in my post about Luther, I don't believe that this was his intent at all. However, when he opened the can of worms of personal interpretation of scripture being valid, resting that the Holy Spirit was given to all for authoritative teaching, this was bound to happen. Scripture shows us otherwise:

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.(Matt 18:15-17).

The Church is the ultimate authority. It must be, because Jesus said it was. The problem that happens now is that instead of taking disagreements to a final authority, we rely on our own personal interpretation. This happens all of the time now. If someone is a member of a church, and they do not necessarily agree with what is being taught, they start a new church. This happens so much that we have 33,000 denominations today. This is not the unity that Jesus prayed for.

I believe we
must adhere to the "core" of the Christian faith


Way too often we get caught up
in "minor" differences in how we live out of faith


Define "core". Is it "core" that we only believing in Jesus? Is Baptism a "core" belief or is it "minor"? What about Eucharist? Do we include faith and works or just faith alone? Do we include the assurance of salvation or no? Do we include the final authority being Scripture or the Church? That is the problem with "core" and "minor". It is a relative term that loses meaning if it is not clearly defined, protected, fought and died for - which many people have done. We do many martyrs injustice by demeaning the beliefs that they died for. If you asked Justin Martyr, for example, if Baptism or Eucharist is a minor difference, what would he say?

However, we can allow God to use us to point others to Him, who is
the pillar and foundation of the truth


Yes. God is the pillar and foundation of truth. But that is not what Paul said. He said that the church is the pillar and foundation of truth. He said this because he knows that the Church is led by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles and elders. This has not changed. The Holy Spirit still leads the Church today through the Magisterium

Looking forward to more responses.

Always your Brother in Christ.
Carlus