Nature and Mission of the Church

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A RENEWED UNDERSTANDING of the CHURCH I. THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH (anchored on Her History) A. Her HISTORY 1. Jesus attracted bands of followers during his lifetime. His chosen group of apostles, and some others, particularly some women, traveled with him as he went about preaching the message of the kingdom of God throughout Judea and Galilee. 2. This little band of Jesus‟ followers would not have known the word „church‟ or the word „Christian.‟ The appellation „Christian,‟ as we are told in the book of Acts, was first given to the infant church in the city of Antioch (in modern-day Turkey) years after the death of Christ. 3. Despite the fact that early bands of followers attached themselves to Jesus during his lifetime, the day that traditionally marks the beginning of the Christian church is the day of Pentecost. Pentecost, the Jewish Feast of Weeks, is one of the three great feasts of the Jewish law and is kept on the fiftieth day after the feast of the Passover (hence the name Pentecost). The first Christian Pentecost thus occurred 50 days after the resurrection, which is why today we celebrate Pentecost 50 days after Easter. (Acts 2:1-12) 4. From being a rather insignificant and somewhat frightened group, the apostles were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and boldly preached the message they had learned from Jesus. Wherever they preached, those who came to believe in Jesus and who accepted baptism formed themselves into small communities. These communities would meet for prayer and particularly for the celebration of the Eucharist. They also supported and helped one another, and shared their goods in common. (Acts 2:42-47) 5. The early communities ultimately came to be called ecclesia, the Greek word for church, which means a grouping or assembly of people. In most northern European languages, the word church comes from the Greek word Kyriake oikia, meaning “the family of the Lord.” Always, therefore, the essence of church is a gathering, a family, a close-knit group. Only much later in history did the word „church‟ come to be applied to the building where the ecclesia worships and celebrates the Eucharist. 6. From this summary of the beginnings of the church some important points emerge. From its very origin, church means people: people who believe in Jesus, who come together to profess their faith, to worship and celebrate together, to commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection, and to help one another. Therefore, one of the salient features of the early Christian church was a sense of community, a sense of togetherness. Community – a helping, sharing, caring community – is the bedrock principle on which the church is built. 7. However, as time went on, the church became more and more institutionalized and defined in legalistic terms. The sense of church (community) was to a large extent lost; the church became an “it,” not a “we.” This loss of the sense of being church, of our own personal involvement in church affairs, is truly a tragic quirk of history that has had the effect of altering our whole thinking and our whole theology of church. 8. What really happened in the Church of the past? To provide a short synopsis of the Churchworld story, I quote Anthony E. Gilles:

1. We, the Church start out as the world‟s hated enemy (persecution, „martyrs‟). 2. The world tries to eliminate us. But we turn the tables on the world and convert its leaders to our cause (Constantine, „barbarians,‟ etc). 3. These leaders, however, do not fully understand what the Church‟s mission is, and attempt to substitute their own earthly power for the Church‟s spiritual authority. Things go downhill from there, and the world turns the table on us. The world converts our leaders to its cause, and we become too worldly to proclaim the Gospel with credibility (Dark ages, „abuses‟) 4. Schisms, revolts, breakaways within the Church follow (Protestant reformation) 5. Then the Church, realizing that the Church-world relationship...
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