Culture & Religion
July Fri 02, 2010
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Life is full of deep questions, such as, "why am I here?" and "what is the meaning of life?" that spur people to search for answers. These types of questions are important and require much thoughtful reflection. The answers that one comes up with will more than likely impact their life greatly. An equally important but often unasked question by many that requires just as much, if not more, thoughtful reflection is the question, "what is the Church?"
Many Christians view the Church as nothing more than a voluntary association of like-minded individuals. The Christian's relationship to the Church is secondary to the Christian's relationship to Jesus Christ. Thus, the question, "what is the Church?" takes a back seat to the question, "do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" The Christian often does not see a necessary connection between Jesus Christ and the Church. In fact, many Christians believe that the Church has often gotten in the way of knowing Christ. Therefore, there is often distrust for the Church. The problem with this mode of thinking is this; the Church is pitted against Christ, as though they stand in opposition to each other.
The reason that many well meaning Christians can pit the Church against Christ has to do with the fact that many Christians believe in the "invisible Church" which is often at odds with the "visible Church." A good number of Christians believe that the primary nature of the Church is invisible (cf. The Presbyterian Church document Westminster Confession 25:1). In fact, the invisible nature of the Church is of the essence of the true Church, according to this position.
Thus, the visible nature of the Church takes a back seat to the invisible Church. Martin Luther wrote, "The first (reality) which is essentially, fundamentally, and truly the Church, we name spiritual and interior Christianity. The other, which is a human creation and an exterior phenomenon, we shall call corporeal and exterior Christianity." If this is one's conception of the Church, then it is no surprise that the true Church is invisible and the visible Church is nothing more than a human creation capable of failure just like all human creations. Since many Christians believe this about the nature of the Church, we should not be taken aback by the many splits and divisions that exist within Christianity. If the visible Church can and often does fail, and even in some cases is deemed apostate, then the only recourse that one has is to break away from it and start another church that will be more faithful than the prior church. The rallying cry of such groups is to get "back to the Bible." This belief to get back to the Bible is borne from the notion that only the Bible can provide the support needed in which to construct a church.
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