My mother went to the church service yesterday at The Manor. After 45 years of attending the same church in Cooperstown, participating in the choir, cooking hot dogs at their annual ice cream social, serving in multiple capacities on multiple committees, seeing ministers come and ministers go, she now will be attending services elsewhere.
I don’t know why that makes me sad, but it does.
Church is something of a mystery to me. I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s because so many of my experiences with churches have been flawed.
In the churches I have attended I have had a minister who doesn’t believe the Bible is true, a pastor whose personal struggles with materialism spilled into some false teaching, a pastor who intentionally set out to divide a church and purge from it anyone who might oppose his vision, pastors who are rigid, and pastors who are wishy-washy.
And then there are the people. My sister, who works in a church, has often said ministry would be fun if it weren’t for the people. People gossip. People lie. People exclude. People expect other people to do the work. People are selfish and self-centered. Unfortunately, I am a people and I do all those things too.
Basically, people are flawed, therefore the church is flawed.
But, what, and why, is this thing we call church?
The church is the body of Christ, the fulness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:23) I have been pondering that one phrase for a good six months and still don’t know what it means. Christ is the head of the church, from whom the whole body is nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, and grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:19) Christ loved the church; He gave Himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
The Nicene Creed says, …I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic church. I struggled with the word “catholic” because I associated it with one particular branch of the church. But here’s what it says in The Book of Common Prayer under a section called “Offices of Instruction.”
…the Church is
One: because it is one Body under one Head;
Holy: because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, and sanctifies its members;
Catholic: because it is universal, holding earnestly the Faith for all time, in all countries, and for all people, and is sent to preach the Gospel to the whole world;
Apostolic: because it continues stedfastly in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship
So church isn’t the minister or pastor. Church isn’t the people. Church isn’t the building in which we meet.
Church is this strange mysterious entity we become when we gather together as a body of Christ. Together we are nourished. Together we grow. Together we are the body for whom Christ gave Himself up. Together we hold the faith. Together we share the gospel. We have a past; we have a present; we have a future.
My mother, after 45 years in one church, now finds herself in another. And yet not. For we are one body of Christ.
Such a mystery!