I am currently commenting on the articles of the Apostle’s Creed. This is for my benefit as much as anything. These remarks are organized only because they are following the outline of the creed. So while they are not systematic, I hope they are not rambling either! I’m giving myself a refresher course and you’re invited to come along. And as you do I trust these few words may contribute something to your understanding of what it is to have faith in the God of Jesus.
From the long view of history, the assault on Christian civilization has been largely successful. Serious people know that the arenas that really matter in life are science, business, politics, family, shopping and entertainment.The process of secularization has seen faith become a private matter, estranged from the mainstream of modern life. The struggle to reaffirm “The Church” in the midst of this onslaught goes on but in a ramshackle fashion. Traditionalists long for filled churches within the old structures of ministry. Others have abandoned the historic traditions and ventured out into new territory creating new structures. In one sense it is a chaotic time for the Church. And that is just the point. How is it that local congregations that number in the tens of thousands world-wide, and represent often vastly different self-understandings, can all call themselves the Church? What is the Church anyway?
In my Lutheran tradition the definition of Church can be found in our confessional documents; “The Church is where the Word is rightly preached and the Sacraments properly administered.” But where exactly is this happening? What is the Gospel, anyway? And how many churchgoing people would be able to tell if their own pastors are preaching it rightly, let alone those in other churches? Furthermore there are Lutheran Church bodies that have little do with one another and even now Lutherans are splitting into groups, once again, over differences. And that is just one tradition among many that are embroiled in nasty church fights.
In one sense to say “The Lutherans believe…” or “The Catholics believe…” or “The Baptists believe…”is practically meaningless. Some have taken to using the term “non-denominational” in an effort to sidestep all this denominational division. But they, too, have varying points of view, so their term is dishonest, misleading and contributes nothing. In every case I cannot help but hear the admonition of St. Paul to the Corinthians, writing of the Church, the body of Christ;
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
Really, Paul? It appears to me that “I don’t need you”, is among the most well-rehearsed phrases in all corners of “The Church”.
This is not the place to address the many questions such observations raise. And even if it were I’m not smart enough to do the job. But a clear-headed view of they way things actually are should, at the very least, open our eyes to the fact that millions of people look at “The Church” and find our witness trivial and unconvincing. This should call forth some measure of humility among those of us who so glibly toss the word Church around like we hold exclusive title to it.
As we Christians stumble along in our pride and confusion, the Creed reminds us that this side of heaven “The Church” will always be an article of faith, resisting our sight. Therefore, as I survey the mess that is the Church, and of which I am a part, it is readily apparent, at least to me, that the best I can do is dare to trust that it is this feeble, struggling communion of saints that God in His grace has chosen and through which He offers Himself for the sake of the world.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Tomorrow: “The Forgiveness of Sins”