What Does it Mean to Be Church?

Today’s blog explores the question of “church.”  What is “church” and how do we understand, live that out or reject it all together in the post-modern age?

Big C little c What begins with “C”?

If you are anything like me, the word, “church” elicits a deeply visceral and emotional response.  This is about as loaded a word as any word can be.  For some church has been and continues to be a refuge, a sanctuary, a place to find nourishment, support, inspiration and empowerment in the spiritual journey.  For others, church is something that has been a profound source of pain, alienation, fear and abuse.  My sense is that for most, church is a mixed bag.  I know for myself, church was once a source of comfort, nourishment, respite and empowerment, then it was a source of pain, and now I find myself again in a space where I have found a community with whom I can worship and again find nourishment and support (ironically, all of this happened within the boundaries of one denomination – Roman Catholicism).

Big C Church

Because the word church is such a mixed bag, I think it is important to distinguish between the Big C church and the little c church.  The Big C church is the institutional church…..anything that has been put in place around a particular set of beliefs and involves a hierarchical, and mostly patriarchal structure.  Big C church is the Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, UCC, Anglican, Evangelical, Pentecostal, etc. church.  Big C involved a building, doctrine, laws and is centered primarily around worship and indoctrination of the participants in the teachings of that particular BIG C church.  Big C church has its place in our society, and it has certainly had its role in the history of Western civilization (both for the good and for the bad).  The problem with Big C church, however, is that it IS an institution…and with that comes all the problems of an institution – infighting, competition with other Big C churches, attachment to power and control, a need to manipulate its members, a need for group think and obedience to the appointed authority, etc.  Big C church will always struggle to find the balance between the message of Jesus (at least within the context of Christian churches) and the need for power and control.  The good news is that while the BIG C church wants to think it is in charge and is the only gig in town, there is another church that is living, breathing, existing, right under its nose.

Small c church

In my personal opinion (and I might get burned at the stake….again…for saying this), is that the real, true, authentic church of God is YOU!  It is not in some building, ruled over by a hierarchical, patriarchal structure, confined by doctrine and laws….but is the living breathing people who have sincerely sought to know the love of God in their heart and live that out in their daily lives.  The church of God is not determined by our obedience to an outside perceived authority and its laws, but is determined by our obedience to the God within and to the guided empowerment of that God and in the ways we live out God’s love in the world….regardless of our chosen denomination or lack thereof.  As Paul explained in his letter to the Corinthians, when we seek to know God, come to discover, cultivate and share our gifts in the world, the WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST.  THIS is the small c church.  So here’s the really cool thing….there are people in EVERY denomination, EVERY religion, EVERY philosophy and belief system, EVERY culture, of all walks of life who are the small c church.  The small c church is not constrained by belief.  The small c church is not contained in a building.  The small c church is not defined by differences or separated by membership.  WE ARE ALL the small c church when we seek to know peace and desire to be a sincere vessel of compassion and love in the world.

What is church to you?

Where have you found gift in the BIG C church?

How are you being called to recognize your call to BE the little c church?

Lauri Lumby

Authentic Freedom Ministries

http://yourspiritualtruth

4 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to Be Church?

  1. Lauri,

    As usual, I’m not going to answer any of YOUR questions. Lol…it isn’t personal (to you, that is).

    I have recently been contemplating the question: What if it is descriptive, not prescriptive? What “it”? The “one church” rhetoric. The VC2 (Vatican Council 2) documents are really interesting for me for a great number of reasons…and bring this question to mind, over and over again. I find them interesting, whether from an insider’s or outsider’s (mine) perspective. Why?

    1) Over 2500 of the world’s most self-righteous men came to some really good consensus on issues around faith. No one, not the bishops, nor the RC theologians, nor the “observers” were shrinking violets. They were highly opinionated and stubborn humans. This is astonishing to me. When is the last time 12 of my closest friends agreed on anything?

    2) Those men represent a great deal of theological and ecclesiastical experience. I shudder to think of the sheer volume of personal, political and financial resources that were required to make it through the process. I’m not sure anyone BUT the RCC could have done it. If anyone else did (like Buddhists, for example) it would be very different.

    3) Some of the same theologians who were silenced/censored by the papacy were present and active at VC2. Hm. Makes me wonder…..

    4) Many ideas that have long been plaguing the BIG C’s were addressed in meaningful ways, including an overt and explicit intention to continue working on this stuff. For the RCC, this is saying a lot.

    I am not committed to the RCC. My relationship to God (sometimes Goddess, and other names) has been highly personal. As such, I am only now learning about faith as a member of a community. I can feel the resonance and spiritual power of this kind of faith practice. It is a little intimidating…and I think I’ll like it. It is what BIG C can offer, although I’ve never known it before this past year. I do not know where I will find it.

    Which brings me back to my question (and yours from a couple of days ago, about where the loving, accepting,spiritual space exists). What if? What if the “one church” (whether Catholic, catholic, or all people of goodwill) is descriptive of what is (in the eternal sense), not prescriptive of what we are called as a people to externally manifest? What would we do, if we don’t all have to believe the same things to in in genuine pursuit of God? If we are all actually called to be members, called to holiness, in a wide variety of ways? How do our lives reflect the Kingdom, which is not in some ultimate future, but is here now? How do we speak and pray and praise as “us” and “we” and also recognize our differences with honor and respect? Too much. Feel free to edit at will.

    • Jessie, LOVE THIS! I too am head over heels in love with the Vatican II Council. I am a total dork and actually LOVE reading the documents. What I enjoy most is the constant pendulum swing from an infinitely expansive Spirit-Driven comment immediately tempered by the Institutional pulling back…..”but the priest has the final say.” You can see the tension between the expansive, creative, explosive energy of the Holy Spirit and the human resistance to change. It is AWESOME. And….you are right….a total miracle that it even happened in the first place. John XXIII is one of my heros. It is for this reason that I struggle so much with the “reform of the reform.” The Vatican II reforms haven’t even begun to be implemented…we have only seen a glimpse, now they seem to want to go backwards. ARGH!

      and to your final paragraph….AMEN AMEN AMEN HALLELUIA!!!!!!!

  2. Stop lying to yourselves. The outcomes of all these councils are always manipulated. There is now way an institution of this magnitude is going to organize an event like this and lose any ground. Peace and Bless.

    • Javier,
      You make a good point. The institution is just that…and institution and as such, is founded upon the quest for power and control. And, they will and continue to do everything to protect these interests. The good news is that the Divine is WAY too large to be contained by this fear and will continue to break through the bounds put upon it by human beings. Thank goodness for that!

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