Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Means and Ends

Perhaps the biggest problem facing the Church today is the assumption that it is an end to be pursued and preserved.

The Church is a means, not an end.

There a lot of debate going on right now about the future of the Church as an institution, some argue that its time has passed into irrelevancy, and it will die. Others are quite hopeful, saying that the church is going to change before our very eyes into something new that will be an agent of faithful change in the world. Still others say that the church stands apart from the rest of culture, willing and able to be a beacon for a different kind of life, even if that means that those who are less faithful will fall away.

This post does not enter into which of those views I think is most accurate. All of those views assume that the Church is a goal, a stronger church, a better church, a more engaged church, some version of church as an end.

The Church is a means, not an end.

The study of "Church," or "ecclesiology," is not a new field, it goes back basically as long as there has been a church. There are plenty of books and articles one can read, plenty of talks one can attend, but I am of the opinion that we need to remember to whom churches belong. (Spoiler Alert!: It's not the Church.)

We belong to God.

Now for any readers out there who are not Presbyterian, Protestant, or even Christian, don't worry, you belong to God too, it's a sovereignty thing. You don't have to be a part of my Church (or any church) to belong to God.

The Church is a means, not an end.

The end is God, to whom we belong. The primary goal of life, according to my faith tradition (read:the right one) is to reveal the magnificence of God and to enjoy him forever. There's your meaning of life, Philosophy Majors. Problem solved, you're welcome. Now, like finding the question to the ultimate answer, we get to figure out exactly how we "glorify God and enjoy him forever."

The Church is a means, not an end.

The Church is one way that people have, for centuries, done exactly that. It is not (gasp) the only way, neither will I claim that it is the best way for each individual, but it has been the best way for billions of people over hundreds of years.

"The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its own life."

It's not a political institution, it's not a country club, it's not something that needs to be protected from outside threats. The Church is not an end to be sought, it's a way that we enact the chief end of humanity. As long as people find it a good way (and please hear me, it really is,) to reveal the magnificence of God and enjoy God forever, the rest will fall into place. If it doesn't do that, then perhaps God is doing a new thing in our midst?

The Church is a means, not an end.

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