The Heart of the Matter

The prevailing conversation around church these days is about whether or not to change our worship schedule (again...we changed it last fall) given the fact that a handful of people in the congregation continue to stir up conflict on the issue. As the congregation and the church leadership have discussed the issue, however, we have begun to talk about the actual heart of the matter: what does it mean to be the church? That is to say, what is the purpose of the church as it exists as a place of faith within a larger world context of unfaith?

The church leadership feels strongly that the church is not a matter of creating/sustaining programs and placating tradition, but rather that the mission of the church is to form people of faith. This is in direct conflict with members of the church who value continuity, history, and tradition over faithful change. I'm not sure that those people clinging to "the way things were" are intentionally making a statement that human tradition is more important than God's future - I think that many people simply don't realize the implications of their desire to preserve the past. There's a lot of reframing to be done around here, as well as a lot of reconciliation.

It occurs to me that we, the church leaders, need to realize that we may never persuade some people - that there are people who will probably never change their opinions of what the church should be. We need to stop trying to convince people and we need to start the work of reconciliation. We need to start the work of healing relationships and finding unity even when we disagree. I'm doing some new thinking on healing and reconciliation these days, but that's a post for another time. For today, I simply want to reflect upon the center of our identity and purpose as the church, using the words of two theologians from different times and places:

Marva Dawn, in
A Royal "Waste" of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World:
The last thing churches should do if they want to worship well is conduct a survey asking members what they want for worship. What the people want might not be good for them, and our churches are in the business of forming Christians, not catering to consumerist choices. This is certainly a countercultural stance, for everyone (it seems) thinks that the Church should be a democracy. However, the true Church has never been – and ought never to be – a democracy. It is, primarily, a Spiritocracy, a Body with Christ as the Head, a charismacracy (my coined word to signify leadership by those exercising Spirit-endowed gifts, charisma in Greek)….In other words, this is the authority of the gifted community, under the Holy Spirit’s directions, talking together to create worship services that keep the focus on God, unite the members of the congregation into a genuine community, and form the believers to be faithful followers of Christ (195-6, 199).

C.S. Lewis, in
Mere Christianity:
This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden— that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.

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