The Local Church(es) of Wilmington
28 Feb., 2017
I am grateful for the article in the Journal featuring pastors of three churches in town (“Keys to a Thriving Congregation,” 28 February, by Gary Huffenberger). There was no definition of a Christian “church” supplied, but based upon the fact that all three were by their implied affirmation of the Trinity quite Christian on at least a confessional level, I may proceed with a discourse intended: a clearer definition of the “local church” and its role in the community and the world.
The church is, by theological as well as etymological definition, a “called out” people. The “called out” ones are also named “saints” or “holy ones.” These people of God have a corporate purpose to be “lights shining in the darkness” in the midst of human corruption. Even as members of a fallen human race, they are called out, separated ones, who as a “body” – the church – have been tasked with the duty to “be holy” and fulfill God’s purposes. They are His servants, “slaves” even, whose life is acknowledged to be dependent upon the Life which comes to them from God and will remain with them forever. Moreover, they have the high and holy privilege of being Jesus to the community and the world. They are his body in their own neighborhood.
One of the foundational functions of the church in every culture in which the Spirit of God plants it is that of the “pillar of truth.” The church, because it is in possession of revelation from God (the very message delivered, known as “Scriptures”) and because it is embodied by the very Spirit of God, who came to earth in the flesh, provides moral truth – Law – for the neighborhood, yea, the world.
Indeed, by this definition, we are well united with our Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Nazarene, and etcetera-brethren 500 these years even still after that great divide in Christendom. That schism, signified by the nailing of the theses on the Wittenberg door by Martin Luther in anno Domini 1517, and the many subsequent fissures are nothing compared with the present divide between historic Christianity, upholding the Triune God and the Commandments, and modern liberal “Christianity.” That latter is patently false even as it denies the foundation for morality and social order – the Law of God.
Indeed, Modernism or “Modernist Christianity,” denies the Communion of Saints – those called to maintain a fellowship with one another, who “renounce the devil in all his works and in all his ways.” The churches of God, wherever they are throughout the world, by their communion with one another and the mystery of “sacraments” – the confession of sins, forgiveness, and the strengthening of spiritual life in the communion Supper – are commissioned to invade and transform the world. The testimonies of writers from the earliest times, who wrote critically of Christians, were nevertheless those of awe as they witnessed the superior moral life style and the love for one another displayed by the adherents to this new religion. It was Christians then, as now, for example, who retrieved infants – rejected, unwanted, to die by exposure, or as food for wild beasts. It was Christians who looked after widows and orphans – that class of unwanted ones, who were customarily cast off.
It is difficult, then, with a high view of the church as afore expressed, to read descriptions of authentic or “thriving” churches in terms that make no reference to Truth (doctrine) and Practice (holiness). Such undefined expressions as were penned – “a sense of authenticity” with a “healthy outreach to its surrounding community” and “long-term credibility” and “having a good reputation” – failed to communicate the dignity and purpose of the Communion of Saints. In a time when the nation suffers Lawless under the dominion of a rogue Supreme Court which issues immoral “opinions” like ukases from a power-drunk Czar are not helpful, the nation is in need of that which only the Church declares: the Law as well as the Gospel; Truth and the way of Life. They do not communicate the nature and purpose of the Church nor do they identify the issues at hand on which it is obliged to pronounce counter-cultural judgments. A clear word spoken to those issues would be beneficial to the reader, to the city, and to the members of those churches.
What is true Law in contrast to civil law? (What is justice?) What about sodomy, abortion, and “same-sex marriage”? When may the people disobey, if ever? When do the people refuse the pay taxes to a rogue government? Was our own Revolution (which church members generally celebrate) more excusable than one which might come today over the issues at hand? Which issues of are more grave, those of pre-Civil War America, pre-Revolutionary War or the those of today. What is the state of the nation? The churches?
A “thriving church” is surely expected by its Master to fulfill its duty to be the “salt” and “light” of the world. How ironic to witness so recently the loss of States’ Rights (albeit an evil that came out of a good – the abolition of slavery), followed by the loss of human rights (the unborn), followed by deliverance from the threat of the Communism (Soviets) and then to continue to submit ourselves to the tyranny of a rogue Court. Indeed the feds through the tyranny of the courts now impose not good but evil upon the states A dictatorship, indeed! How do we fail to address the situation and confront the Court and those politicians/rulers who bow to such perversions of justice?
And how immoral is such deference! An alarm is needed from our pulpits. Not gibberish about how to attract and keep people in the pews (or folding chairs). And how slack we are to listen to such claptrap from such pulpits which sound no alarm!
Let us personify the state for a moment in considering its view toward the church and discover, perhaps, another way of viewing the posture the churches of God ought to assume. The state is as a man who wants to control the church for his own purposes of philanthropy toward his citizens and self-preservation of the nation and his power. He gladly gives the church a tax-exemption as long as it declines to talk bad about him and does nice things in the land to promote the general welfare of his domain. No criticism; no rebellion; no talk of another legal system in this world above his own. Ethics in the Realm are his affair. The church may do as it likes in its own building, but laws in the Realm are his right and responsibility alone. He will listen to the people, but the church may not speak to him or lobby him as a people united nor may it disturb the Realm by propagating its opinions to the rest of the land.
Such, one might aver as I do, is the condition of the churches of God vis-à-vis the State. They have forsaken the duty to be the “Pillar of Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) in their environment. Many have neglected their duty to address the state with the demands of justice. They have failed to fulfill their role as a prophet to the state. The church is the proper source for ethics and law and morality for the world. It has and must declares the Truth, the very Law of God and is, by its own duty and vocation, responsible to communicate that truth to the government and the world, just as it has the duty to communicate the truth of the Gospel to the sinner in need of personal redemption.
The advancement of the Kingdom of God is the primary goal of the Church, of which personal evangelism, pursuit of justice, edification of the church, family responsibility are all inherent duties to be performed in pursuit of that goal.
It was Father Michael Holloran of Columbkille who came closest to expressing these truths in answering the question about “what people are looking for.” He said, simply: truth, worship, and community. Simple.
So, let’s start with Truth.