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Monday, July 06, 2015

What is the Church?

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”—C. S. Lewis
Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a ...
"Me? No, never went to seminary. I'm self appointed. What about you?"

Clive Staples Lewis, best known as C. S. Lewis, was a fascinating individual. Although, baptized in the Church of Ireland and raised in a Christian home Lewis was an avid atheist by age 15about which, he later humorously said he was angry with God for not existing. Eventually, he did come around, however, and although reluctantly at first fully embraced Christ as Savior and Lord of his life. Here is his abbreviated account as recorded in his book, Surprised by Joy:
"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

Those sentiments did not last for long, however. From that day forward, he set out on a path of inquiry and discovery that few have ever been able to match. An Anglican by persuasion, although not afraid to follow his spiritual intuitions to their logical conclusions even if it did mean that at times he appeared as more of a Roman Catholic than Anglican, he nonetheless insisted that he was in truth neither, he was merely a Christian.

I find that refreshing. For the older I get, the more I am persuaded that we need to rethink our theological rigidity and remain open to new insights from the Holy Spiritafter all, Christ did say that He would lead us into all truth. Therefore, we mustn't be timid when challenged from those on the right of the theological spectrum or those on the left. Christ has not left us without answersnot always pat answers, but solid answers none the less.

Christ like the noon day sun cast throws light on all the dark spots of uncertainty in our lives and he has not left us without a compass to chart our course, either.

We have the "Church the pillar and foundation of all truth (1 Timothy 3:15)"; and we also have Scripture that "is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 2:15-17)."

We dare not ignore either, since to ignore the accrued wisdom of the Church or the infallible word of God in order that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work is sheer foolishness. We need both. Without the Church we are left to grope for words like the Trinity or the Incarnationalthough the concepts are in Scripture, the words are not, and it took centuries to sort out what they truly mean. Without the Church we would have no Apostles Creed, really no theology except that which we could think up on our own; and God knows where that would lead considering the some 33,000 denominations and independent churches in the world today.

No, we need the Church. But first we must define the Church. What is the Church? Now, the burning question: Is it possible to be in the Church (that is in the ecclesia) and not be able to identify it? In other words, is the Church invisible like the Kingdom of God, heartfelt but elusive to the eye?

The early Church had a saying: "Where the Bishop is, there is the Chruch." With that I agree with one simple caveat, that is "which Bishop are we talking about?" 

The early Church had a saying: "Where the Bishop is, there is the Church." With that I agree with one simple caveat—that is, "It all depends on which Bishop are we talking about?" A lot of crazies are around today wearing clerical collars calling themselves “Bishop.” Some have even given themselves the lofty title of “Apostle” and “Prophet” to which I reply, “Let another's lips praise you and not your own.” Furthermore, where in Scripture did anyone ever refer to themselves as a “prophet?” Friends, that’s not a title up for grabs, it must be earned the old fashioned way, so prepare yourself for the stones if you get this one wrong. Problem is we tread on dangerous grounds when we flip these titles around as if they are ours to choose. So, my advice is that we be careful or we just might offend someone, namely, God.

Now, to define which bishop, why don’t we just stop with Jesus—the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25)? He does the calling, the anointing, and indeed the empowering. Personally, I think that this is in keeping with the spirit of Scripture in which Christ tells not to call any man Lord, Master, or Father.

Again, however, this is just one man's opinion, so take care—