5a: WHAT IS CHURCH? Christ, Church and Community

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 Look at the previous post:

5b: WHAT IS CHURCH? The Christian Church Sequence

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Christ, Church and Community …. Spirituality from Jesus Christ or Christian Religion
In this post, I wish to share with you some reflections on Christ, Church and Community. Jesus calls us into a new community with Himself initially as a vertical spirituality ….. He gives us a new identity as children in the Kingdom of Heaven. Through this new identity, we can then be in relationship with others of like mind in a horizontal spirituality. Jesus set out a basic ground of verbal teaching in the Sermon the Mount (Matt 5), for His new Kingdom Order where he taught His disciples principles like:
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit
  • Blessed are those who morn
  • Blessed are the meek
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are the pure in heart
  • Blessed are the peacemakers
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteous sake
  • Blessed are these who are reviled and persecuted

    …… not strong qualities to take over the world …… but when applied by Jesus followers, actually worked and turned the world upside down when outworked with the preaching of the Gospel. Before He  left us, He prayed for you and I in: John 17:20 …..

  • ‘Neither, pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe, on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
  • Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
  • In Jesus’s prayer there are only two kinds of people: those for Him and those against Him.

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A few points in Jesus’s prayer:

  • That they all may be one: There is only one group …. His followers were called from the world ….. not many different followers of all different churches ….. followers of Him alone as the Lord Jesus Christ = ‘Spirituality from Jesus Christ’
  • As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: the degree of togetherness was to be the same degree that Jesus was with His Father = the standard that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. Our degree of unity would result in the world believing in Jesus Christ.

The present Christian is caught between the historical legacy of two alternatives, that of the early Christian Church and the influence of later centuries. There is a tension between Church as relationships and Church as a rigid organisation. The first leads to a warm, open and communal approach but not necessarily with organised corporate direction. The second leads to a more corporate approach, more formal but not so communal.

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1. The First Approach … Church as relationships: It was to be more like the body … organic with an emphasis on spiritual gifts being used by the Holy Spirit for the common good. Paul in the New Testament comments on spiritual gifts:

  • 1Cor 7:7 …. each has been given different spiritual gifts …. one for this manner and another for that
  • Cor 13: 1-13, 14:1- 25 …. the many different sorts of gifts
  • 1Cor 12: 1-31 …. there is unity in diversity in the sorts of gifts

‘1Cor 12: 1-31: Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.,
Wherefore I give you to understand,, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one, is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues. But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the, body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore, not of the body?

And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore, not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body?

But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot, say unto the hand, I have no need of thee nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary. And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need but God hath tempered the body together , having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care, one for another, And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some, in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But yet earnestly the best gifts and yet show I unto you a more excellent, way.’

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2. The Second Approach … Church as a Corporate Organisation: leads to a more formal but not so communal. It is Christ-ianity as God’s Community with Spirituality versus Church-ianity as Religion or God’s Corporation.

Jesus didn’t start an organisation but developed relationships with a small core of people. These then multiplied around the then known world into small committed fellowships. In the New Testament Greek, ‘Church’ is translated from the word ‘Ecclesia’ which is simply a gathering or community. The one thing really missing in our Postmodern World is the loss of community. This is not a geographic community but a relational one. It is building people together into a new unity = New Earth Community and if necessary facilitating them into an  appropriate fellowship.

Starting in the early 60’s AD., Christians were targeted in a very specific way by Emperor Nero of the Roman Empire. He was a tyrant. Christians were being asked to affirm that he was Lord of all and a god as were all Caesars after him. Christians wouldn’t affirm that and only affirmed that  the Lord Jesus Christ was Lord of all and not the Caesars. This meant an Empire Law that said any Christian  could be imprisoned and  killed by Law.

This meant that the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in 64 AD. Friends found it very hard to see him. He was beheaded in 67 AD. before Nero died in 68 AD. There many stories of how Christianity as a spirituality entered this pagan environment:

  • Roman culture had a variation on wholesale abortion …. Babies would come to full term …. Then if mothers didn’t want them, they would left by the roadside for wild animals or vultures to eat or throw them in the river. This was especially so for girl babies. Christian woman walking along the road would see these babies and take them into their own families. Every life was valuable to Christians. Maybe 1 in 3 occurred this way
  • There are stories of Christian woman walking through snowy forests looking for abandoned babies.
  • In some Roman towns a plague would come. People in the town would leave and go out to the countryside but they would leave the children, the old people any sick people behind. Christians would move into these towns and look after these abandoned people. They wouldn’t die from the plague but from neglect. When the people came back, they would wonder why their relatives had become Christians. Christianity back then was not what you talked about. It was an action thing.

The Empire Law that said any Christian could be imprisoned and killed by Law had some of these happen:

  • Christians who were caught, were sometimes used as human candles in the Governor’s night garden parties. They were painted with pitch, tied to an upright pole and lit as human candles. This was the practical outcome when Jesus said his disciples: Luke_10:3 Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.
  • In our Italy Trip in April 2005, we spent some time in Rome. One day we caught a bus out to one the ancient catacombs from third century. The Empire Law is still very much in place so Christians had to appear like any everyone else. The Christian Community consisted of wealthy Christians and poor Christians. The catacomb we saw (one of six in ancient Rome), was on the land of wealthy Christian woman. When Christians died, they didn’t want to be cremated with one the gods of Rome. They wanted to be buried and wait for Jesus to come at the 2nd Coming. They had to do it in such a way that no one would know what they were doing. They had Christian men who did nothing else but dig big tunnels in soft volcanic rock and carry out the dugout material in sacks on their shoulders and spread it carefully on the ground above so know one could see what was happening.
  • They would dig head height tunnels, lighting them with olive oil lights, then carve out a coffin space in the wall. When it came to family members, they would dig out a circular room = a catacomb. They would go down on another tunnel below and dig along. They couldn’t go down any further as they had met the water table.
  • They would dig head height tunnels, lighting them with olive oil lights, then carve out a coffin space in the wall. When it came to family members, they would dig out a circular room = a catacomb. They would go down on another tunnel below and dig along. They couldn’t go down any further as they had met the water table.
  • One day the wealthy Christian woman was down in a catacomb praying with three men from her Christian Community. A Roman Legion learnt what they were doing and ran down the tunnels and caught the four of them. The three men they took upstairs and killed straight away. They came back to the wealthy Christian woman and asked her to leave her Christianity behind and come back to the Roman gods. She held out three fingers meaning Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They slit her throat so she slowly died on the rock floor. The church grew on the blood of the martyrs.
  • When we visited in 2005, it was lighted with fluorescent lights and there was a marble statue and story of the meaning of the marble statue and the catacomb. If you add the six ancient catacombs of Rome, there are nearly six kilometres of tunnels. That is a lot of digging in soft volcanic rock.

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Constantine the Great

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The Empire Law that said any Christian could be imprisoned and killed by Law. However a great change came in the Roman Empire with the Roman  Caesar: Constantine the Great. He initially wanted to balance up the good and evil in the world and he made Christianity legal.  Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity,[notes 1] and he played an influential role in the proclamation of the Edict of Milan in 313, which declared religious tolerance for Christianity in the Roman empire. He called the First Council of Nicaea in 325, at which the Nicene Creed was adopted by Christians.
Read about  Constantine the Great  at this website.
See the post in our Travel blog: EARLY ROME …. First Century …. As seen in the Italy Trip in April 2005 for Ken & Harriet Aitken.
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In the 2nd and 3rd Century came a Christian heresy of Gnosticism. This was a synthesis of Christianity, Eastern Mysticism and Spirituality of various Roman Mystery Cults which led to a syncretistic approach. This belief system was firmly put to death by the real teaching of Jesus Christ in this period. Gnosticism lay dead for 1500 years then was brought to life again. It has become Neo-Gnosticism in this present century in New Age teaching. This began to occur in 1945 when 50 original Gnostic texts were discovered in Egypt in clay pots in the Nile delta. These were translated into English by very liberal Christian scholars who saw them as valid alternative to orthodox Christianity. This gave rise to the big groundswell of what I call the New Spirituality Movement.

From the beginning, I make some distinctions between religion and spirituality. Religion is explicit (outwardly evident and defined) and is marked by four things: a cult, creed, code (ethics) and community of people (which is more inward looking). It ends up being very law-centred (religious laws) …. focusing on precise ways of living life … ends up with very defined expectations and precise programs.

On the other hand, spirituality is about being something ….. who we really are …. it is implicit (inwardly self evident and undefined). It isn’t about seen, visible things but an invisible, powerful world we can ‘see’ into. It not formed by rational thinking but is connected to by non-rational means. It refers to how an individual lives meaningfully with the ultimate questions of life, his or her response to the deepest truths of the universe as he or she apprehends these. It answers such queries as:

Ø Who are we as a people?
Ø What is the meaning of life?
Ø What values should I live by?

The relationship of a ‘Spirituality from Jesus Christ’ is quite distinct from having an outer rigid, religious framework of Christianity …. the two are quite separate but can be mutually coexistent. The first focuses on the Person of Jesus Christ and calls all people to be His disciples. The second focuses on His teachings and sees Christianity as a philosophy of life. This framework then calls or has compelled people to be disciples of this outer framework. This also happens in other religions around the world whenever there is an intolerance to other peoples outlooks. At the current historical moment, the focus is on Islam being a peaceful religion vs. being an intolerant fundamentalism.

In addition to this perspective, I make a careful distinction within Christianity between Christ-ianity as spirituality and Church-ianity as religion. The first is from a Christ who is alive by His resurrection from the dead and with us now by His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wants to revive our dead spirit and bring healing, restoration and transformation of life. We can begin to experience what I call the ‘Sustainable Life’ that flows from this new way of life. In contrast, Church-ianity as religion has been derived by people over the centuries.

The new transformed life from Christ-ianity as spirituality …. has the ability to be continually renewed and maintained everyday. There are three important components in this Sustainable Life. Structure, Social Network and Spirituality. Each of these components act like legs on a tripod which sit on large rock near the ocean. When the storms and waves of life come of life come (as in an injury or major disruption to life, if the legs are strong, the waves will go over you but you will sit firmly on the rock of life. If one of the legs is weak, the tripod of your life will fall over in what you could call an Unsustainable Life.

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See further  the next post: 5b: WHAT IS CHURCH? Jesus and Organisation

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