The Church: an Essential Activity?
The Church as "Activity" .... An Unsual Designation
As a part of Diamond Hill's attempt to adjust our ministry methods to the Corona Virus mitigation efforts of our State, I took the time to look up and read the actual Executive Orders issued by Governor Roy Cooper, and their various revisions and updates. Aside from what appeared to be several inconsistencies in the applications of those Orders, what caught my attention most was the Governor's designation of Churches as "Essential Activities" or as in some cases "Operations." I'm not personally aware of our Governor's religious inclinations if any, nor of the inclinations of those within his cabinet or among those involved in drafting those Executive Orders, but the designation of the Church as an "Essential Activity" does raise some concerns for me about His or their understanding of what the "Church" actually is!
"Church" a Proper Noun.....not a Verb
Most Christians understand that the "Church" or "ecclesia" is Biblically defined as the "Assembly" (Hebrews 12:23) Consisting of the Saints (set apart ones) (Acts 9:13; Ephesians 4:12; Romans 6:3-7) Paul also describes the Church as a Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Ephesians 5:29-30)) of which Christ is the Head (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:23) Paul further understands the Church to be the Bride (Wife) of Christ who is Her Husband (Ephesians 5:25,31-32; Genesis 2:24) As great as this mystery is (Ephesians 5:32) there is one truth that is clear and not mysterious in the least, and that is, that the Church; The Body of Christ; the Bride of Christ, is not an "activity" or an "Operation." Merriam-Webster defines a "Proper Noun" as, "a noun that designates a particular being or thing, does not take a limiting modifier, and is usually capitalized in English." The term "Church" given its usage in Scripture most certainly refers to a particular being or thing and not to an "activity" or an "operation." Unfortunately, as Christians, we have to admit that we have contributed in some part to what appears to be a misunderstanding among our State's leaders. Afterall, we say things like "We're going to church!" or "Would you like to go to church with me?" or "Where do you go to church?" Even more careless, we say things like "We had church today!" or "Let's do church!" Perhaps the Governor's mistaken designation of the Church should be a reminder and an encouragement to us to give more attention to our own language when it comes to the Church! We don't DO Church! We ARE the Church!
More than a mere language usage error!
The Governor's designation of the Church as an "Activity" has more grave implications than merely a mistaken usage of language and terms. If that designation actually reflects an accepted perception of the Church among our State's leaders, then their accompanying designation of it as "Essential" becomes necessarily limited in scope! What I mean is this; If the Church is understood as an "Activity" then whatever exceptions are granted in the Governor's Order are actually being limited to a vaguely defined "activity" or perhaps worse, to whatever the Governement may deem as acceptable "activity." The language is both overly broad and overly narrow at the same time ... one of the inconsistencies that concerns me most! Is the Governor reflecting in his language that he believes that the "Church" as Biblically defined is "essential" or is he reflecting a belief that certain unspecified "activities" of the Church are essential. If the latter, what sort of activity does that involve? Unfortunately, that's not clearly defined, and according to my recent corespondences with the Governor's office through our local State Representative, it's not likely to be anytime soon. Rather, it would appear to have the effect of having the Church asking the State for permission to conduct certain activities on a case by case basis! One doesn't have to strain the imagination too far to anticipate the trajectory of such a precedent.
On the other hand, If it is the "Church" as it's defined in the Scriptures that is understood to be "essential" in the Governor's Order (an assertion I am doubtful of) then we are inclined to ask if the same assertion holds true after the Corona Virus passes? If the Church, rightly identified is "essential" now, in present circumstances, will it be deemed "essential" in future circumstances? More directly, is the Church "essential" in the issues of Abortion on Demand and Same Sex Marriage to name just two? Regarding these two issues at least, not only has the Church aparrently not been deemed "Essential" rather, in large part there seems to have been efforts, both covertly and overtly to silence the Church as non-essential to the debate.
Sufficient for my purpose, and simply stated, the Governor's designation of the Church as an "Essential Activity" is so vague and incoherent as to leave itself open to individual interpetation and ultimately renders the Church subject to the State as the final arbiter as to which of its tenets and practices will be considered "essential" and thereby permitted. Perhaps in the Providence of God, this is where we're headed, but I cannot support our going there without objection! The Church, by the nature of her beliefs and doctrines should be subject to the Governing authorities that exist as ordained of God, (Romans 13:1-6) But I pray that these authorities will understand and be reminded that we have a higher Authority and a higher loyalty and duty of obedience to our God. If the worldly authorities govern in a manner that requires our disbedience or a disregard for our Higher Authority, we dare not comply!
The Church as She is ....... Essential Indeed!
There is a Divine irony however in our Governor's designation of the Church as "Essential" even if the State's percepton of the Church is lacking. Indeed, the Church, as she is described in the Scriptures is "Essential." In fact, one could argue persuasively, that when the Church is obedient and devoted to her Head who is Christ, she is the MOST Essential "Organization" on Earth. Although it's not my intention to fully describe the necessity of the Church in this post, one could quickly determine just how essential she is by imagining (without much difficulty) how different the world would be today were it not for her presence, or perhaps more accurately, for the Presence at work within Her...Namely Christ, Her head! Not exhaustively but exemplary are the following examples:
She is Essential Because of Her Origin
While the Church, in principle form can be recognized in the Old Testament relationship between Israel and her God (Deuteronomy 7:6; 1 Timothy 3:15) As she exists today, her origin and ownership was foretold by Christ in (Matthew 16:18) when He said "I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not overpower it." In (Acts 20:28) we are informed of the price paid for her establishment...the very blood of Christ (His Sacrifice). The Church is Essential because of at least three realities reflected in these passages; 1) She is the Possession of Christ Himself, joined to him by faith she endures as long as He endures which is forever. No other "organization" formed by men will outlast the Church. When governments and superpowers return to the dust, the Church will survive eternally. 2) The purchase price paid for her! No higher cost was or ever will be paid for any other possession by any other person! Men give their lives and fortunes for ideas and beliefs and convictions, but no life ever given was comparable to the life given over for the Church...He was Man, but more than Man! Very God and Very Man! God dwelling in human flesh with man... Emanuel....God with us! And 3) The gates of hell (hades) can not overpower (or prevail) against her. What organization or institution of man can guarantee its full and final victory! Even now, a tiny microbe of a virus threatens to bring down the accumulated fortunes and powers of the entire global community, how much less could all these Nations combined stand against Satan, death, and the grave! The Church is Essential simply because there is no other "organization" like her!
She is Essential Because of Her Embrace of Truth
Her Head, Christ Himself is Truth personified (John 14:6) As the Church embraces her Head, she embraces Truth. Other "organizations" may more or less build themselves around truths or right precepts, but these are too often 'truths' that evolve as the perceived needs of men change. The Church is Essential because the Truths she is built upon find their "truthfulness" and timelessness in the One who is eternally and infallibly True and in whom truth itself finds its root! The Church is Essential in that through believing in Christ, and in her continued devotion and obedience to His Word, She discovers a true and full freedom, (John 8:31-31) All sorts of organizations and institutions of men are dedicated to the attainment, sustainment, and propagation of Freedom! And though these make great practical and political strides in relieving physical and material oppression around the globe, none but the Church and those cooperating entities which hold fast to the truths which provide for the freedom of men's soul from the bondage of sin and the oppression of man's ultimate adversary, the devil, can with assurance direct humanity toward the Freedom which is found fully and ultimately in the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ! The Church is Essential because only the members of that Body have the ever present Holy Spirit abiding in them as their guide into "all" truth. (John 16:13) What organization or institution of men can make a similar claim? What organization of men can address every issue with confidence and with great effect for good and the Glory of God, reliant upon God the Spirit, indwelling and actively guiding them toward the fullest revelation of "Truth!" The Church is Essential because she is caretaker and steward of the Truth as demonstrated in Holy Scripture, the very Words of God. (1 Timothy 3:15) She is Essential because there is a Truth present for and within her, in Person and in Holy Scripture, whereby she is made truly free and set apart unto Christ's likeness for God's purposes in the World. (John 17:17-19)
She is Essential Because of Her Ministry and Moral Influence
Imagine and tremble at the prospect of a fallen world without the Church's ministry! As the "Body" of Christ the Church's ministry to the poor, and the oppressed and the suffering is in essence the hands and feet of her benevolent Head, Jesus Christ. Her ministry is the mercy of God purchased by Christ and extended to the world through His Body the Church. (Matthew 5:1-12; 25:34-40) What institution of man is set apart by God and devoted wholly to being a conduit through which the mercy of God is offered to all mankind? Imagine as well a fallen world without the moral influence of the Church! Of which organization of man's design is it said by God "You are the salt of the earth..." or "You are the light of the world..."? (Matthew 5:13-14). Which institution of man conducts its activities or "works" under the exclusive purpose and divine mandate that it do so "in such a way that they (the world) may see those works and glorify their Father in heaven! " (Matthew 5:16) Imagine a world where the fallen natures of man are left unchecked and unbridled in the absence of the teaching and the living out of the divinely inspired word of God by the Church? (Romans 1:18-21; Ephesians 2:1-3; Ephesians 2:4-10)
She is Essential Because of Her Message
What other institution originating with men has as its divine mandate the global declaration of Good News .... the Gospel? More than that, whose Good News is divinely empowered to bring about the salvation of men (Romans 1:16-17) who all their lives have been held under bondage to the fear of death? (Hebrews 2:14-15) The institutions of man offer the hope of prosperity, of good health, and of personal or financial success. They offer a multitude of "secrets" to fulfill the expectations that they themslves have introduced into our consciences, yet none can offer the hope that God offers through Christ and the Gospel of Christ as declared by the Church! Only the Church declares through the power of God a ..."Living Hope..." and "...an unending inheritance..." (1 Peter 1:3-5)
So....is the Church Essential?
Time and space fail me, but I would mention in passing and for your consideration these also;
The Church is........
Essential Because of Her Unconditional Love
Essential Because of Her Enduring Presence
Essential Because of Her Contributions to Governance and Social Order
Essential Because of Her Contributions to Education
The Governor's designation, if the identity of the Church is rightly understood, is more true than perhaps the Governor and his Administration understand! The Church is not an "activity" but this mistaken identification should not be taken to mean that the Church is not "Active!' We should be! Always ... and particularly in times of distress as the one entity, set apart in Christ to offer to the world a true and lasting Hope, in this present life and in the one to come! For we who are followers of Christ, I hope we're reminded of what it is we're called to do, and who it is that we are and Who we serve! And that long after the Corona Virus has passed into history, we will continue to demonstrate ourselves through our devotion and obedience to our Lord as "Essential" to not only our State, but to the World!
To God be the Glory!