A few colleagues have pressed me on the question of ecclesiology. That is–in an age where the existence of some local churches is threatened, what do I believe the Church must still do? What is its continuing nature and purpose?
Well. After a decade of watching the implosion of a local church, I have to confess that I have thrown ecclesiology to the wind and settled for finding some way, any way, to make it through the next stewardship campaign.
But after reflection, I wonder if there might still be some kernel of hope for a Greater Purpose in the dark closet of my heart. There must be some reason we churchy types are still beating ourselves blue to keep the institution afloat (I mean, besides the need for a paycheck).
In a desperate attempt to cure my cynicism, I turn to Bonhoeffer, Gabriel Fackre, and the Presbyterians’ Five Great Ends of the Church (I know, there are six, but only five will fit into a Lenten series, so I have condensed a bit).
Of course, the main reason the Church must continue to exist is because it’s God’s Project, and God gets to decide what happens to it. But here are a few other reasons I came up with:
The Church must exist because…
1) People need to tell and hear stories; and not just any stories, but in particular, that one Good Story that keeps not ending. We need to rehearse its lines until we feel ourselves to be characters within it.
2) People need a connection to each other that is about more than the expedient exchange of goods and services. We need soul companions who recognize Christ in each others’ features.
3) People need to get together and worship Someone, not because God needs to be worshiped, but because we need to celebrate God’s obvious greatness and cry about our obvious unworthiness, in a place where there are other people who are just as amazed about it all as we are.
4) People are wired for compassion and need to take care of each other and our world . We are not descended from hamsters, who eat their young. We are descendants at least of the chimpanzee, who shares food with those outside her own family. A few of us have even attained the level of the Bonobo, a primate who, when he finds meat, will feed it first to a stranger before feeding it to a friend. We need to be part of communities that care for the vulnerable.
5) People tend to second-guess anything that might actually be good, so we need evidence. We need to occasionally walk into a place or stare into a glass darkly and glimpse a world different from our own, a parallel universe of generosity and truth telling. We need to splash in that other universe until we are at least a little bit hosed down by it. We need to believe that we, and our world, can really change.
These are some reasons I believe the Church must continue to exist. And this begs the bigger question: Is your church or my church accomplishing any of these things?