Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christian Believer: Week Twenty One {Body of Christ}

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.
("The Church's One Foundation", Samuel J. Stone)

Lesson twenty one was "The Church: Body of Christ" (The Body of Christ in the World).  It was a good lesson, but not one of my very favorites.

We watched the video first, of course, and the presenters were Gregory Mathewes-Green who is the pastor at Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Chruch and Frederica Mathewes-Green who is a free-lance writer, a commentator on NPR's "All Things Considered" and a columnist for Christianity Today.  The video was really different from most of the others- it had a less academic fell or something.

The first thing the video said was that the church is the body of Christ not just because he acts through us but because we have been grafted into Christ's body.  Each article in the Nicene Creed begins with "We believe..." and then each person of the Trinity receives a paragraph.  The fourth article states "we believe in one holy catholic church". The word theanthropic was then explained-- the church has a dual nature; theos meaning divine and anthropus meaning human. 

The presenters went on to discuss some Orthodox beliefs about the Church:
1. It represents the divine and the human nature of Christ.
2. It exists in time and eternity; on Earth and in heaven

They also discussed some Orthodox practices and beliefs on those.  They believe that when they celebrate Holy Eucharist (communion) they do so not only in a particular time and place but are "lifted into the heavenly realm and participate in the worship that goes on without ceasing before the throne of God and the boundary between Earth and heaven is revealed to be merely and illusion".  Then they talked about the Saints- they represent the church in eternity, as we represent the church on Earth.  Finally, icons- according to the presenters, they are not items of idolatry, but windows into heaven.

They gave a few more descriptors of the church.  It is:
1. The very mystery of Trinitarian life
2. The Body of Christ
3. The presence now of the kingdom to come

Finally, the church has an inward competent and an outward component.  We are to engage in discipleship and fellowship, but also missions and evangelism.

The book also offered some good insights.  First of all, the church is the community of those who profess Christ's name.  God did not choose the church because it is good; it is good because God chose it.

It then talked about the Biblical analogy of the church to a body.  Members are all interrelated and dependent on one another.  Also, we are more than a group of persons held together by common convictions or ethnic or historic connection; we are the physical presence of Christ in the world.  It also discussed the church as the "bride of Christ" and said that the goodness seen in the church is a holiness won by the sacrifice of Christ.

The book made the point that many of writers in the New Testament wrote their letters as responses to the problems or failures of the first Christian congregations. I thought that was interesting

Next it discussed how in the Nicene Creed, the church is described as "one", "holy", "catholic", and "apostolic".  We are able to be one even without total doctrinal unanimity.  The church is holy because the Holy Spirit works though it.  The word catholic refers to the universal nature of the church, not to the Roman Catholic church.  Finally, the church is apostolic in that we draw our faith  from the earliest believers. 

The book said "Since the visible church includes both sheep and wolves in sheep's clothing, and since the sheep themselves are not yet everything their Lord intends them to be, the visible church cannot help but be an embarrassment to itself and to it's Lord". However, the church is a wonderfully hopeful body! 

Finally, the distinction between the church militant and the church triumphant was made.  The former is the church on Earth; the latter describes believers who have died and are now in God's presence.

My favorite excerpts from the textbook and Scripture:

"I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'" -Psalm 122:1

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation...Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people..." -Isaiah 52:7-9

"The body is a unit, though it is made of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ." -I Corinthians 12:12

"If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, ever part rejoices with it." -1 Corinthians 12:26

"The Church also is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness.  As there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strength based on its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although the multiplicity seems diffused in the liberality of an overflowing abundance, yet the unity is still preserved in the source." -Cyprian

else's troubles because they are 'no business of yours', remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you.  If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become an Individualist.  If you forget that he is a different organ form you, if you want to suppress differences and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian.  But a Christian must not be a Totalitarian or an Individualist.  I feel a strong desire to tell you and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me which of these two errors is the worse.  That is the Devil getting at us.  He always send offers into the world in pairs- pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse.  You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.  But let us not be fooled.  We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight though between both errors." -C.S. Lewis

"Their common past, whether by birth or adoption, defines them as family.  For the family that is the Christian church, unity come primarily from a shared future. Just as sharing of a past creases a real kinship, even so the sharing of a future creates a real kinship." -Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki

Because we the church believe the church is the body of Christ in the world, I will try as a member of that body to be worthy of this high calling. 

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