The Church and its mission: Theology

The main theological principle at play when it comes to the church is the theology of God’s presence. Jesus told his disciples that wherever two or three gather in Christ’s name he would be there in their midst. While most Christians accept the idea that God is everywhere and everywhen, even the most accomplished mystics are not continually aware of God’s presence. In spite of this, when people go to worship together, there is an expectation that God will be present in some way that has special meaning to the worshipers. Eastern Christians, for example see worship as a time when one is on Earth and yet for a brief time heaven has come down to earth.

The church meets because it expects Christ to be there as they eat together. The church meets because it expects the Holy Spirit to enliven whatever is done, whether it is singing, or studying, or praying, or making decisions.

It is hard to say why Church is theologically special, as those who seek God’s presence together do not expect God’s absence when they are alone. In fact, there is a tradition of not only assembling into communities of God’s presence but withdrawing to seek God. Many report more powerful experiences in times of solitude than they do within the community — yet even they are not to forsake meeting together.

I believe that the theological reason that God calls the church to meet together represents human needs and human limitations. If we recognize that some people must go to the wilderness to meet God, the church must be about something more than meeting God. I submit that the church exists to respond to God’s movement within the church. The church meets in the hope to hear God’s voice, to evaluate and interpret what has been heard, and to come up with a plan of action in obedience to what they understand God to have said. Not only does the group exist to critique the individual’s understanding of God, but to encourage one another, and to work together — because humans do better in groups.

Perhaps the greatest work of the church has been to assemble the Holy Scriptures and a body of traditional understandings about God. The visible church existed before there was a single book of the New Testament, and many believe that God gathered the invisible church from the dawn of humanity, before the first book of the old Testament was penned. One of the works of the church was to decide which writings were valuable to the community. Along with this work was the formation formation of a framework to understand God. In the process of hearing, interpreting, and attempting to obey, the church creates the Theology that drives future generations in the same process.

Continued with: The Church and its mission: A Quaker perspective

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