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  • rmquanstrom

The Church

While I was preaching on Colossians, I could not help but think of ecclesiology. (Ecclesiology is the study of the church.) In that letter Paul says that Christ is the head of the church and the body is held together with its sinews and tendons. Back then I turned to The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of Church by Lesslie Newbigin. In one section Bishop Newbigin is tracing the origins of the modern understanding of the church. He signals that protestants have a distortion in their understanding of the church in that the church ought to have visible unity. Pointing to Martin Luther, Newbigin explains how Luter needed to justify his continuing in the faith despite having been banned from The Church. Having been excommunicated, Luther creates a distinction of two churches: the "natural essential real true inner Christendom and a man-made, external bodily Christendom." This is how many modern Christians approach the church. They see the church as something man-made rather than something instituted by Jesus himself (Matthew 16:18). And many have used this type of reasoning to justify their self seclusion from a church. Though Luther was attempting to reform the church, many Christians today use this distinction to justify their own self-righteous leaving of the church. Newbigin points out "very plainly [this] is different from the teaching of the New Testament on the same subject." Then later he says: "When Paul writes to the Corinthians about excommunication of the erring brother... this act is not regarded as merely a severance of external membership while leaving the man's spiritual relationship with Christ untouched. It is a matter of the most awful spiritual meaning- nothing less than delivering him to Satan. Surely we have to face the fact that, whatever we may make of it, Paul and his converts were alike working with a conception of the Church which made membership in it a tremendous spiritual reality. To be in its fellowship is to be in Christ, and to be cast out of it was to be delivered over to Satan." As I reflect on the Epistle reading from today's Daily Office, I wonder if we have the same high regard for The Church. Is participation in the Church essential to our devotion to Christ, or do we think that we can somehow have a personal relationship with Christ that excludes his body? When we think of our identity in Christ, does that self reflection include the church or are we thinking of ourselves as isolated individuals?

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