What is the church? Over a week ago, I discussed how the church is manifested by the Gospel & the Sacraments. This definition does not solve the many questions that follow, but it gives us a solid beginning in discussing the essence of the church. Notice the focus is not on the people or structure but on the external means of grace.
Today, I will move forward to discuss what the church should be for the world that surrounds it. Once again, I am going back to basics and digging in the confessions and Scripture. Not only is the church about the external means, but when the world walks through the doors of a church they should see it as a "pillar of truth." (I Timothy 3:15). In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, it is written after the external means that the church is to keep the gospel and doctrine pure from error. This would imply that the truths taught in the church do not change.
However, have we seen many changes in beliefs/doctrine? The United Church of Christ's mission statement is "God is still speaking" which comes from a theology that promotes a progressive revelation of the Holy Scriptures. This theology begins by looking to culture and then arrogantly promoting that the church can discern what God is revealing in truth apart from the Word of God. Therefore churches can promote universalism, pluralism, immoral sexuality, women's ordination and skip over certain scriptural passages because God is trumping the Bible with culture. The problem with this theology is that the truth always changes and the church is no longer a pillar, but a sandy beach always changing.
In my post-modern mindset, I must admit that the "God is still speaking" theology is quite appealing. It lets me get off the hook of pointing out someone's wrongdoing, especially my own and allow all of my unbelieving friends and family to go to a heaven without worry. Although nice, it is not the truth. And we live in the reality that truth is real and we will struggle with that until the resurrection.
Need a good reminder of the truth? First go to the creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian) and then dig deeper into the confessions. More less if it doesn't sound like what you learned as a child at church, it probably isn't the truth (assuming you grew up at a sound church). May the church be seen as a place of solid truth, truth that does not change, and truth that points to Christ our truth.
Lord have mercy