What is “Church”?

A big question.

Churches rise and fall. The big picture of larger movements as well as small individual congregations.  All rise, all fall, all are reborn in certain sense.

Growth comes, paradoxically, from that fall.  Each movement a seed for the next in a widening, constant re-discovery of the essential of all existence … love.

Emanuel Swedenborg offered fascinating insights on that dynamic.

Every church when it begins holds the good of life [useful, kind service] in the first place, and truths of doctrine in the second; but as the church declines it begins to regard the truths of doctrine in the first place and the good of life in the second place. (Apoloclypse Revealed, 82)

In another place he writes….

At first a church has no other doctrine and loves no other doctrine than teachings around charity because this belongs to life.  [Eventually] it begins to hold charity as cheap, and over time rejects it. (Secrets of Heaven 2417)

So we start out, simply put, with love. A  love that grows towards service. And service, in its original form, is valued over knowledge. That is where churches grow.

Over time we “flip” however and mistakenly come to value knowledge over service. Religion, faith becomes a “head trip.”  And the church declines. Arguments and debates pull us up and away from life into the safety of intellectual ivory towers. Clean, sterile and absolutely deadly.

A simple process of growth. A  simple process of decline.

So what is “church”?

Church is community where God is known, his Word celebrated. Celebrated through this – a genuine love that leads to service.  A pushing aside of the compulsions we all harbor that detract from that love. And a reach, a smiling, dangerous reach out into the world.  It begins in each individual heart.  Ripples out into our church community of practice.  And reaches further still to the world.

This is how it looked for this pastor yesterday….

 

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One Response to “What is “Church”?”

  1. Tom Kopera says:

    Amen!

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