Wednesday, April 03, 2013

What makes a church?

It was my task yesterday to initiate a theology assignment for the Congregational Leadership course called, "The Third Mark of the Church: a Community Rightly Ordered."  I'm not sure how I missed hearing about the marks of the church in both college and seminary.  It might have been my own attention deficit problem.

1. So today we walked first through the four marks of the church established in the Nicene Creed: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  The Reformation posed some serious issues with several of these.  The first reformers, like Luther, didn't think they were starting new churches.  Up until the Colloquy of Regensburg in 1541, there was still hope of some reconciliation and reformation of the church (I think I read this in McGrath).

So there wasn't the push to work out what would soon become crucial need to come up with a new definition of what it meant to be a church.

2. John Calvin came up with two marks of a church. The church is a place where 1) the word is rightly preached and 2) the sacraments are rightly administered.  And since Calvin believed the Bible (the word) had something to say about church order, a third is often considered implicit: 3) a community rightly ordered.

Calvin of course had to work out the distinction between the invisible and the visible church. The true, invisible church could be one even though visibly it was not.  Some reformers--especially in England--might use the word catholic in reference to an earlier common Christianity, one that predated the non-biblical diversions of medieval catholicism.

3. What if we didn't know any of this history?  What would I say the marks of a church were?
  • A local church is a visible gathering of believers with the Spirit (holy), with some weeds mixed in.  The catholic church is the (invisible) collection of all believers with the Spirit, both past, present, and future (the communion of saints).  
  • They gather to worship God and to encounter him in word and sacrament.
  • They gather to fellowship and build each other up.
  • They gather to carry out the apostolic mission of evangelism and service.
So what are the marks of a healthy church?
  • An assembly that worships God in unity.
  • An assembly that is transformed by God in word, sacrament, and fellowship.
  • An assembly that loves and edifies one another.
  • An assembly that loves the world around it, near and far, in mission to save and serve.

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