Thursday, May 31, 2007

Church, Like with a Big "C"

’m back from vacation. Always good to leave and always good to return!

Apparently by spending my days swimming and eating and watching the first season of “Lost” on DVD (never seen it before and now I’m hooked), I missed quite an exchange over at Weedon’s Blog regrading the Church, a discussion heated enough that it spilled over into other websites, and launched more ad homines attacks against non-Lutherans than I’ve seen since Fr. John Fenton joined the Orthodox Church…probably because another former Lutheran, now Orthodox priest Fr. Gregory Hogg was involved.

While the discussion has nearly prompted me from removing more blogs from my BlogReader (at Google…it’s pretty good. Go… er…Google it) the question itself is of the most serious importance. Where can you find the Church? What is the Church?

Why is this so important? Because this is what, rather, who we are, or are called to be. Jesus didn’t establish the canon of Scripture. Paul didn’t write letters intending to establish some collection of sacred text, or a textbook. Jesus established the Church, His Body, and St. Paul wrote letters of exhortation and encouragement to the Body of Christ, to the Church.

If you’re a Protestant (and I include modern Lutherans in this category) you don’t think about the Church in the same way that Christians throughout the ages have thought about it. Or maybe you do. Here’s a few questions:

1. Suppose you move around a lot and have a hard time finding a congregation that either makes you feel at home or teaches exactly what you believe the Bible says. Do you have church at home with your family and feel that this, while maybe not ideal, is nonetheless completely acceptable?

2. Suppose you are affiliated with a particular Church (or church body) but don’t like the pastor/priest/elder/leader. Is it okay for you to organize a new branch or congregation in town?

3. Suppose you heard about Pastor John Doe who wanted to form a new church in town. Does this seem like a normal thing?

4. Suppose you immigrated to a new country along with many like-minded people who felt that you couldn’t be faithful to God in your current location. Suppose once you arrived some scandal mandated your leader be removed as leader. Is this a crisis or do you simply find a new leader from capable men (some seminary-trained) and get on with your new church?

5. Is it even possible to form a new church body if you find enough like-minded people? Is it good?

How many questions did you answer “yes” to? Check below for what it means:

5: Congratulations! You are a modern schismatic protestant!

3-5: Congratulations! You are a schismatic protestant, but you have an idea that maybe the church is something other than a minor non-profit business after all.

2: Congratulations! You are a protestant, but you are concerned with having some sort of connection to the Church Christ established on Pentecost, and realize it’s more than a tax-exempt club that talks about God a lot. Or…you are a pastor who is sick of the LCMS but can’t find a good Lutheran Synod to join.

1: Don’t worry, you may not be protestant at all. Perhaps I just wrote the questions poorly.

If you answered question 4 in the affirmative, you are not a Missouri-Synod Lutheran like they used to be. This in fact is what happened. Lutherans in Germany fell under the charismatic sway of someone, became convinced that genuine Confessional Lutheranism was on its way out in Germany (they were right about this) and immigrated to America, where they could worship in a way that seemed right to them. Once they arrived, their Bishop was deposed for apparent sexual and financial offenses and they were thrown into crisis, asking themselves such questions as, “Are we a cult? A sect? Schismatic? How dare we form some Church by ourselves? Are we the Church or have we just excommunicated ourselves be default?”

Would you ask yourself these questions? Would they even occur to most people?