Monday, December 24, 2012

A Philosophy of Ecclesiastical Structures

You know what I'm talking about.  Just as cereal boxes vie for attention with labels full of bombastic promises of being a "good part of this nutritional breakfast," and advertized with their own branded cartoon characters, or, on the other end of the spectrum, the marketing on the box is more subdued, or "green," with catch-words like "whole"(as in grains) "organic" "natural" and so on.  Churches are no different.  Much as they try, they cannot escape the tyrrany of branding themselves.  We live in a society of choices and brands, and the choices choke, split apart, and keep people, at bay.

It's human nature to want to identify and belong to a certain like-minded group, however, and to criticize that longing is just as arrogant as the person who "looks down the nose" at the other groups because they are not like their own.

In churches in the USA, it's no different.  They have brand names, brand architecture, brand music (worship style) and brand preaching.  They especially--most assuredly--have brand programs.  While there is no "perfect" church, there are in fact, some biblical principles that church can follow in order to keep them healthy, strong, and keeping with God's Word.

The Episcopal Church, for example, has the three-legged stool of tradition, Scripture and reason, and this is a good model for what a local church should look like.  A three-legged stool of a local church should be theology, worship, and community.  First, theology.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42).  A local church should be theologically self-conscious.   The people who attend and are members of that church should have a "theology" of that church.  Examples of creeds and liturgical forms in the New Testament are in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 regarding the resurrection, Philippians 2: 6-11 regarding the nature and work of Jesus Christ, and 1 Timothy 3:16 regarding the same.  First order of business should be some creeds like the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed.  "No Creed but Christ" is a trifle bit of nonsense, as first of all, itself is a creed (the Latin "credo" meaning, "I believe") and thus is a contradictory statement.  Moreover, "No Creed but Christ" or "No Creed but the Bible" doesn't answer the question about what one is to believe about Christ or the Bible, or God, for that matter.  Churches need to be confessional churches, and the Apostle's Creed and Nicene Creeds are excellent places to start.  Ecumenical and Reformed theologian John Armstrong argues that churches need creeds that meet the needs of 21st century Christians as well.  He supports the Belhar Confession of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) stating that churches need to recite publicly their beliefs about social issues and justice.  He's right.  

Whether that church is Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian or whatever, the local body of believers associated with that church should know, believe, adhere to, and self-consciously identify with, the theology of that church.  And not only so, but with equal importance, they should also know what other Christian churches believe, so as to avoid living in a vacuum.  For example, a Reformed church might have as its theological position, the Three Forms of Unity: the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, and the Heidelberg Catechism.  Are these forms taught faithfully by the pastors and elders to the children and youth, and are they preached from the pulpit or taught in Sunday School? 

While these documents (or others) shouldn't be the only thing taught to the youth or in Sunday School, there should be an ethos of the church where a self-identification and consciousness is held by the pastors, elders, deacons and members.  This theology could easily be inscribed on the hearts and minds of the people during the call to worship in the church's liturgy.  Further, if the Three Forms of Unity are adhered to, a knowledge of church history and history of doctrine should be taught as well.  This fosters individual thought, as well as reformation within the church.  In short, there should be a theology of the church, as well as theology in the church.  Perhaps that sounds daunting--all of this theological training and learning.  However, ignorance is not bliss, and knowledge offers freedom. 

No comments: