Monday, August 03, 2009

Spiritual Cooperatives

In this day and age, what is the definition of Church?

For what do people seek when they seek to find a place to worship? Most people say that they are seeking to find A church or a church home. Some will say that they seek to find The Church.

As one searches the length and breadth of the cosmos, a wide variety of churches can be found. This is true even when one specifies that a Christian church is what is sought. How many Christian churches exist in the world?

Who cares?

Some do care.

From the days of the apostles the claim is that only one Church exists in the world. It is stated also in the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and in the Athanasian Creed. Most of the mainline church bodies still claim to hold these creeds to be true.

Yet even among the more clearly defined church bodies, those who make more clear differentiations between the various bodies and their confessions, nevertheless, they still call each other church and they still call one another Christian.

Some claim that it is necessary to avoid those that teach differently, that is, those who teach false doctrine. Some also examine how other bodies practice what they confess, and claim that it is necessary not to be in fellowship with these heterodox bodies. Yet even among these more defined groups, still the mutual practice is to call the other bodies both Christian and Church.

This being the common practice among them all, what then really is the difference? If it does not really matter what is taught and practiced, if those who are more strict or rigorous or careful or discerning in their examinations and close associations still count the others as Christian and Church, what does really matter?

Perhaps it would be better to use the term Spiritual Cooperatives, rather than Church or churches, for this better reflects what is commonly called Church in the world.

The following sites have definitions of cooperatives:

Statement on the Co-operative Identity

These definitions seem to fit far better what is observed as church today.

So does it matter how one defines Church?

In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Matthew 7:15-23, the Lord Jesus gives a very powerful warning:

     Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
     Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

According to this warning of the Lord Jesus, there will be many who became absolutely convinced that they were members of the church and disciples of Jesus and children of God who will find out that they were really only members of a spiritual cooperative where their spiritual leaders misled them and deceived them. According to the Lord Jesus, these poor souls will be convinced that they were doing the will of God, but will hear from the one that they called “Lord and Savior” that He never even knew them and that all of their presumptive acts of faith and godliness were actually works of iniquity.

Should this be a cause for concern in a day when Church is defined so broadly that those who believe in the resurrection of the body and those who do not believe in the resurrection of the body both are called Church? Should this be cause for concern when the most discerning of the church bodies say that a less discerning church body is Church while that church body says that an even less discerning body is also Church while that church body says that even a church body that denies the resurrection of the body is also Church?

When this is what Church means today, what really is the difference between the most discerning bodies and the least discerning bodies?

To this the Apostle Paul writes:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

Does it matter how one calls on the name of the Lord? Does it matter with whom one gathers to hear the Word of the Lord? Does it matter how one defines Church?

Apparently it depends on whom one asks.

Whom are you asking?

No comments: