What is the Church ?
"the Church must palpably appear as the actual expressions of the faith,hope, and love of (the) living..Otherwise the Church would be a dead body rather than a living Christian community" (Dulles:1976:64) . Theology is abstract and metaphysical by nature. But the Church is a reality and is not only metaphisically invisible but also visible. Is the church a Christian community? the word church is derived from the Hebrew "Kahal" meaning "assembly of Gods people". (Lochmann:1982:199) The word has continued in history to have relevant meaning. But is it an - Institution ? The place of Mystery ? Is it United ? What is the place of worship in the community ? Is there such a thing as a Christian living; And where is The place of eschatological beliefs. Let us begin with the basics, does the church have to be united. . Martin Cressy summed the notion up by describing an Indian bookshelf. Being one piece of wood but yet having a certain amount of flexibility, manoeuvrability but at its core remaining united. Without unity of individuals there is no community. But how can there be unity . Moltmann wrote, "Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with the eyes of a man with a full belly." (Moltmann:1977:17). Thus he infers that unity is never to be obtained in the Christian community. But despite our different contexts all believe in the relevance of Scriptures. In fact Moltmann goes onto to claim nearer the end of his book that there is "Unity in diversity and freedom." (Moltmann:1977:343) But the fact remains that the church`s are split. In May 1990 the church of Ireland,part of the Anglican Communion, allowed women to be ordained but the decision caused a number to form a break away group called, "The Church of Ireland (Traditional rite.) This break away group only differs on the doctrine of the Priesthood. Therefore in the manner of glorifying God and not the essential issue- is God there ? So at a basic level there is some unity though it is a great shame that this unity and diversity could not be maintained in one Church. When the ordination of women in 1992 was debated, on both sides people threatened to leave the church if the vote went against them. The bishop of Newcastle and Philip Crowe representing each side. Ephesians 4.16 states that the "bond of the community is love." (Bonhoeffer:1963:102) Thus the community can have diverse views but as long as it is committed in love it remains a Christian community. Love as outlined by Jesus in Mattthew 22.37-40:"You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your mind.....You shall love your neighbour as yourself." Therefore is there love in the Church ? Do the individual members of the Church love each other ? And do they love God ? To answer the second ,first. The answer has to be an uncategorical yes. Who can say whether others love God ? The second is more obvious to examine. Pure love has to be non-egotistical. Love as epitomised by Paul in Romans 9.1ff. Paul loved his people so much that he was willing to sacrifice his communion with God and be damned for the salvation of his people. Paul was an exceptional man.(Bonhoeffer:1963:131) Unfortunately in any religious community we all fail to live up to the standards set by Paul. In our own surroundings egotism is prevalent in a competitive atmosphere where the academic elite are distinguished by there dress. In a Christian community where love should be the key surely there should not be an elite. As inferred by Matthew 20.21ff. in practice if we profess to be a Christian community- Galatians 3.20; "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there isno longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." If there was true unity in love then practice would be different as love , the love of Jesus shone out from us. But at every level of the Church from the parish to the House of Bishops we are all human and affected by our own egotism. The very threats to resign by Bishops and clergy during the ordination of women debate, because they feared the synod vote would not go there way more than amply proves the point. If they have to resort to a psychological warfare, and elevate there own position above that of others,the act of threatening to resign and the implication that the threat will have an effect does this; then the love is not in the Christian community as it should be and thus it is a dead body. But there is some hope. Bishop Peter Ball decided to abstain from the vote because he said, "I place the unity of Christs' Church....before everything else." (Times.Nov.11) His views don`t matter his obvious love does. It is a shame that not all the members of the House of Bishops did not also feel that love. Eg;The Bishop of Sheffield called his opponents deaf as adders. This lack of love can to lead to institutionalisation because the members of the institution increasingly want to elevate their own position.(Moltmann:1977:344) The problem is t "institutions.(are) seen as self serving and repressive.." (Dulles:1976:41) The Church according to Luther-"must take other..(peoples) wants and infirmities to heart as if they were your own, and offer your means as if they were theirs, just as Christ does for you in the sacrament." (Bonhoeffer:1963:127) It is argued that the institutions have developed through history so the Church has not been overrun by the state. Eg;Thomas of Canterbury and Henry II and Alexander III and Frederick Barborossa. But the question needs to be asked does the faithful exist for the sake of the hierarchy or does the hierarchy exist for the faithful. The colour of the peel of an orange is effected by the fruit inside. The hierarchy should be therefore for the faithful. Is it, does it feel like it? Has the church become an institution asserting its own importance and thus has grown part from the Gospels it`s main living organism. A church which worries about its own institutional survival is not dependent on the holy spirit according to Karl Barth. Could this be one of the reasons why Church attendance is on the decline as compared to the inter-war period? Yet the alternatives to the Church as written by moltmann are "religious seminars, theological courses, spiritual exercises and retreats (are) on the increase, as well as the number of people who are engaged in charitable activity and liturgical, pastoral, social...work." (Moltmann:1977:327). This was written in the 70's , how much more applicable it is now, with the New Age Movement and the reaction against Thatcherite Britain where the individual was recognised but society was not. The Church is thus a dead body;numbers are on the decrease at the Church Eucharist the very foundation of the Christian community ! There is an alternative to the Church it is finding itself being superseded by a strain of humanism. The Church should be a collection of individuals all trying to emulate Jesus Christ so that the whole Christian community emulates Christ. According to Moltmann, the Church should be the "poor blessed", "the sick healed", and the "prisoners freed." (Moltmann:1977:85) Is this the case or is it the case that those who attend Church tend to be those that are well, hold down jobs have there own houses etc. This is obviously a generalisation but we can all pinpoint churches where those who are not of a certain class and age aren't that comfortable. Is the Church actually trying to help those in the World. Aspects of the Church are through organisations. But the Church is not being seen as doing enough. Non-Christians can help those in Yugoslavia, the starving in Africa etc. The Church as a Christian community has to be seen to take the lead but it has lost out-eg;Band-aid. Individual Christians are doing alot, but Since Thacherism, the Christian community as a whole is not recognised. Donald reeves who lady thatcher called a most dangerous man tried in every parish he worked, to get to grips with the comuntoy and raise the issues of the comunity, and whne he retired he spent many uears trying to find peace and reconciliation in the countries of former yugoslavia. The church has to be outward looking. Instead it is merely occupied with itself. Look at what general, diocesan and deanery synods talk about. Women bishops, we are not talking about how we can make an impact on the poorest in this country. This has to be a major reason for the decline in the Church attendance. Another is that there seems to be a movement to try and explain some of the mysteries of the faith. For instance the miracles of Jesus or the nature of Jesus (A.N.Wilson), the Virgin Birth etc. Even if the parting of the Red sea was caused naturally like the tide going out at St. Michaels Mount surely we can marvel at Gods creation-nature. There is no need to explain everything. The Church needs to keep some of the mystery else the faith becomes fact. Faith does not need to be based on fact. That is the nature of Faith. We understand the rudiments of pregnancy but we don`t understand all the little details which enable two humans to "make" another human. It is a wonder of nature which we will never understand fully. It has mystery . Graham Cray in The Church of England Newspaper (Nov.6.1992) states- "One of the tragedies of today is that some elements of the Church are so firmly secularised in their disbelief in the supernatural that they have nothing to say to a culture which increasingly takes spirituality for granted." The Church is also an eschatological signpost of the Kingdom of God. Similar to John the Baptist for Jesus.(Barths analogy on Kungs beliefs in Dulles:1976:72) But to be effective at this the other issues have to make the Church a Christian community else the eschatology of the Church is ignored. If we were a Christian community we would be "an eschatological community pioneering the future of all...(people)."(Pannenberg-Theology and the Kingdom of God in Dulles:1976:112)we don't. To conclude a depressing examination on the Church. It has been shown that the Church is not really United, but it has become an institution, it seems to have lost its Faith and worship, it`s mystery and seems to have lost the direction of the Gospels. Or at least it is no longer seen as following the moral teaching of the Gospels in a manner expected of it. Image is important because it reflects practice. It has become introspective instead of outward looking in preparing the world for the Kingdom of God. But we can take heart from Moltmann who says the problem is not new. (Moltmann:1977:20) And from Barth who reminds us that "If we can really hope for the Kingdom of God, then we can also endure the Church in all it`s wretchedness." (Dogmatics in Outline in Lochmann:1982:208). So the Church is a dead body ! But we as Christians believe in the Resurrection of dead bodies !