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Monday, April 20, 2015

Practicing Church ( the praxis of ecclesiology )

How often have you been to church in the past 6 months? Year? How often is the answer, 'not as often as I should', or 'at least a dozen times; I try to make it at least once a month'? What's wrong with this scenario?! Some might have a problem with the fact that this person is not attending church every Sunday, while others may have a problem with this person for another reason! 'He/she just needs to get his/her priorities straight; if they really wanted to get there more often, they would'! Well, yes; both excuses are faulty, but then, so are the condemnations!

Scripturally speaking, the Church that God built was not one built with inanimate wood, hay or stubble! It was not built by human hands, as were the Temples & Tabernacle that had been erected in the land over the years. This Temple, the Body of Christ, was built by the same Architect who founded the heavens & the earth of old! The Church was built with Living Stones, ones with hearts of flesh that could be fashioned according to the Creator's Will! These Living Stones would not just sit there like bumps on a log, but had arms & legs with which to do their Father's Will!

The problem, which you may already be aware of, or are now starting to see, is that we, as the Body of Christ, do not go to Church/church! In today's vernacular, yes, there may be placed a distinction between Church & church, the large 'C' & the small 'c', the Invisible Church & the visible church.  This distinction is not Scriptural, nor should it be countenanced by Christians! 'Why not', you might ask, 'what harm can it do?'

Well, much in every way! That this distinction is not Scriptural is easy enough to prove; just 'go to the Scriptures!' On the other hand though, 'why should it not be countenanced by Christians?' That one may not be as easy to answer, so bear with me for a bit! Think of it this way, if we make the claim that there are truly two different bodies, then have we not effectively split the Body of Christ in two?! If there is a Visible Church & an Invisible One, whereas those who belong to the Visible Church may not necessarily belong to the Invisible One ( & vice-versa ) , then what we have on our hands is a man-made creation, one that cannot stand the test of time!

Then we have some proponents of the Visible Church theory that seem to think that they & only they represent the True or Invisible Church! It might be thought that the Visible Church serves as sort of a basic training ground for the Invisible Church, or Church Triumphant. These though are those who believe in a future ( physical ) bodily return of Jesus! It not being my purpose at this time to refute this misplaced hope, I will say no more on the subject than that if Christ must yet return bodily, then what does the apostle Paul mean by calling us the Body of Christ?!

The Church of Jesus the Christ is an Organism! It is not an organized Institution & though we are no doubt called to be an organized body rather than a chaotic mass, or mess, the Church, or Body of Christ was formed around the Divine Essence; She is not an institution, such as marriage, which was given to the sons & daughters of men! As such, the Church is what we are, not what we practice, much less the doctrines we hold, whether they're Scriptural or not!

So what of doctrine; is what a particular congregation holds as orthodox important? It surely is, as long as it is held religiously! Too often, members of what is called the visible church fail to religiously uphold the orthodox doctrines that they profess, not that they don't practice the doctrines they profess within their particular congregation or even their particular denomination, but the Institutional Church of today & today's America seems to have forgotten that true doctrine is expressed in love practiced within the Body of Christ, not any certain denomination or congregation!

Doctrine, the doctrine of Scripture, anyway, must be practiced to be of any good; the apostle James makes this pretty clear! If it is not proven though our practice, he says, it is dead & useless! Any given congregation may have all their doctrinal ducks in a row, yet if they show love only to those who hold the same doctrine as they, is it, on one hand, true doctrine & on the other, is it truly loving? It may sound true & orthodox, but if is not practiced in Truth, based on the teachings of Jesus, then it is not true & orthodox, but only doctrines of demons & lies of the enemy!

To believe the Truth is to believe Jesus & to believe Jesus is to believe the Truth! There are certain things that Scripture relates about Jesus that are pretty clear: that He was the Son of God Incarnate is very clearly stated, multiple times! What is not clearly stated, for instance, is that He inhabits the selfsame biological Body in some 'Heaven' out there somewhere. It IS clearly stated though, that WE, His People, are His Body! Obviously, the apostle Paul did not mean this in a literal sense, as in, that man is His big toe, that woman is His index finger, etc, but it is very clearly stated that we do constitute the Body of Christ! Different people may interpret this phrase differently, but the Truth remains; we ARE the the Body of Christ! Also Truth, is the fact that, however one chooses to receive it, Jesus, the historical person, was, according to the clear teaching of Scripture, the very Son of God!

If one believes this Truth, not only about Jesus but that is Jesus, that one will join the ranks of the Saved! Scripture never tells us, or told them that one must believe that Jesus currently inhabits His biological Body ( wait..............???? ) in Heaven in order to inherit salvation, or enter His Kingdom; it simply states, to all who would enter, that to inherit His Kingdom, one must simply love God & their neighbor as themselves! That is how one must practice being the Church of God in Christ Jesus; love God & love your neighbor as yourself!

When the scribe asked Jesus, 'who is my neighbor?', Jesus made very clear to him who his neighbor was; it was the one who had need of him! The Good Samaritan did not first check to see if the needy man along-side the road was his actual neighbor ( lived nearby him ), nor did he ask if he was a member of a given congregation or local church body; he did not even ask whether he was baptized! He simply showed the love of Christ ( whether he meant to or not ) by meeting the man's needs with the means at his disposal!

Is this not what we are called to do as the Body of Christ? You can be assured that we were NOT called to fight & bicker among ourselves as to whether Jesus remains in a biological body in some far off ( though spiritually accessible ) 'Heaven'! It IS important to believe what is True, but with the emphasis that Jesus placed on doing what He commanded, it is clear that we are to prove our belief, our love for Him, by loving our neighbor as our self. If we show this love only to those who hold the correct doctrine or believe the same way we do, how is that showing the love of Christ; do not even the heathen do thusly?

Once we get past the notion that we only go to church & begin to realize the gravity of the fact that we ARE the Church, once we begin, as many Christians already do, to whatever extent, to practice our faith outside the four walls of their church building & to truly show our love for God BY loving our neighbor, then we will witness a Kingdom Explosion such as has not been witnessed since the first century ( AD )! Realizing that we do not practice Church ( simply ) by meeting with other believers in a special building on a certain day or days should have a profound impact on us! Not only will it affect our own lives, it will have a much greater effect on those around us than we have heretofore noted!

Corporate worship is important; it is good to commune together as One Body to offer praise & thanksgiving to our Creator, to strengthen & build each other up through our fellowship & sharing of mutual faith! It is as important though, to remember that this ( alone ) does not constitute Church, nor is this the only way that we show forth our worship & praise; this is shown forth in our everyday vocation, our everyday lives, in loving one another, even those that we would not ordinarily deem our neighbor! True worship is to follow the commands of Jesus, not merely to believe certain doctrines, be they Scriptural or not!

'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved'; there is no lack of clarity there! As far as salvation goes, that is what is of utmost necessity, but what is it to believe on Him? Is it to believe every doctrine about Him that man has formed, that the Institutional Church has formulated over the past almost 2,000 years, or is it simply to accept Him as Lord & Messiah, He who came to save His People from there sins!

Clearly, one must believe ( rightly ) in order to act ( rightly ), but unless one does act on their belief, their belief, their faith, is mere words! In order to truly shine forth the Light & Life of Christ in this world that seems to be beset with Death & Darkness, we need to be the Church outside the four walls of the local church ( building ) letting our Light so shine before them that they may KNOW our Father in Heaven!

Charles Haddon Shank

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