"the Church"

A friend of ours is applying to a seminary and had to write an essay on "The Church." He wrote about some of the usual issues faced by churches today: declining membership, how to be relevant in the world, surviving. And I'm sure those are the challenges that seminary is trying to address.

But I think questions like these are really just concerns of our human institutions (churches or not) that have little to do with "the Church." The more organic biblical imagery for the church, such as "the body of Christ" or "I am the vine and you are the branches," point to something very different. If these are accurate, then the life and nature of church is not determined by us, but by Christ. It is not us, our choices or actions or constitutions, that make the church what it is. It's Jesus. The church is the corporate, communal manifestation of Jesus in the world. It is his presence and nature that make it what it is. If he is not in it, it is not the church. If it is not like Jesus, obeying him as head, doing his work, loving with his love, then it is not the church. This is not something we decide about or make happen. It's not an issue or challenge or question for us to solve. The church is, and can be nothing other than, Christ.

Of course that answers the concern about "survival" as well. Our institutions can die (they all will eventually, every one of them). But Christ will not. If nothing else, the resurrection demonstrates that. So we need not have any fear that the church will not survive. That's not a problem we need to concern ourselves with; if we're fighting for survival, then it's not the church we're fighting for.

The church lives because Christ lives. The church is compassionate and fearless and holy because that's what Christ is. These are not up to us. What is up to us is whether we will be a part of Christ's church or not. Whether we will accept the invitation and embrace of Jesus or not. Whether we will allow ourselves to be directed and inspired and moved by Jesus or not. The church's direction and nature and membership is not in our hands. All we can do is accept the church Jesus offers us, or reject it. Not once, but every moment of our lives.