Summary: Five sermons introducing the universally held theological truth that the church of Jesus Christ is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, with application for a church at the end of the twentieth century.
Christian is a church word. A Christian is a person who wants to follow Jesus. "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37) A Christian is a person who has LIFE in God (II Corinthians 5:17. "If any (one) is in Christ (they) are a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new."
A Christian is also a member of Christ's Body, the Church. (Acts 2:47) " And the Lord added to their number daily such as were being saved." Every Christian in the New Testament after Pentecost was a baptized member of the Body of Christ.
The relationship between the individual Christian and the Church of Jesus Christ is basic and vital. To best understand this relationship it is essential to ask "Just what IS the Church?"
How? Since total objectivity is impossible, I would state where I am coming from in this look at the church. I believe in a Christo-centric study of scripture; that is, reading to find out how to draw closer to Jesus; how to be more like Him; how to get to know Jesus better. My desire to know more about the church is a quest from faith to faith: I believe that we here (in Wollaston) are even now a true church, and part of the one true church of Jesus Christ. This coincides with a growing conviction that ultimately the local church is the basic unit of the Church.
Without apology, our look at the church stems from an honest quest for growth: I believe that we are/are to be a part of a larger whole. This larger church is not limited to our denomination or even to our particular tradition (or that branch of Christendom with which we are most familiar and comfortable); our spiritual pedigree is Wesleyan/Anglican/Reformed/Arminian. But I want to see this church be all it can be!
Wesleyans are not fundamentalists.
Given our Wesleyan viewpoint, still I want to be as honest as I can. And any study of the church fosters controversy over definitions. When we look for an authoritative word, on the church or about any other spiritual term, we probably feel pushed into an either-or battle between the liberals and the fundamentalists, based squarely on the nature of the scriptures. This struggle has monopolized the attention of many theologians and most of the pastor-theologians for more years than we would care to admit.
What neither liberals or fundamentalists would care to admit is that there seems to be a common thread in their approach to the scripture. Both wish to speak with an authoritative voice about what the scripture is or is not, what it says, what its purpose is. In short, both sides seek to have control of the holy writ.
When we talk about God and the holy things it is all too easy to fall into saying very profound and very stupid pronouncements.
Fundamentalists have a reputation for denying obvious scientific facts. Grudgingly and slowly the ultra-conservative religious positions have accepted some new ideas. The human side of the God-human connections have been down-played; i.e., the humanity of Jesus, and the human authorship of the books of the Bible. Sometimes this has been carried into a rejection or downplay of the human part of the God-human relationship we call salvation. God does everything, even to the selection of who shall-shall not be saved. Liberals have a reputation for denying or "scientifically explaining away" the unseen or spiritual realties described in the Bible. The divine side of the God-human connections have been reduced to natural phenomena. Jesus was the highest expression of humanity, but that is all. The Bible is inspired exactly as other great literature is inspired. Prayer and religious exercise are subjectively true and useful if the individual so deems them.
Is there a way to break the hold of this controversy? Can we come to the Bible to seek and find God's mind about the church without either throwing away our living faith in God OR being so closed-minded that we know exactly where we should end up even before we begin?
Wesley's Authority Checks
In a Christo-centric approach to scripture, where shall we look for identification of who the church is, and what the church should be/become? As a Wesleyan, I suggest that we let John Wesley help us define what the church is.
Wesley had four sources of authority.
Above all the other authorities was the scripture as accepted in our Canon, the 66 books of the Bible.
Wesley also looked to what he called tradition; the accumulated wisdom of the centuries of people calling themselves Christian, including the Creeds and the writings of the early fathers.
Wesley also appealed to reason. He understood that the keenest reflections of the wisest persons thinking about God and holy things reason could not penetrate mystery; but he also understood that God's truth would not ultimately contradict itself. God is not capable of lying.