How would you know the church if you met it on the street?
Our task for Monday was to look at a text called “The Nature and Mission of the Church” (NMC for short). It’s a 60+ page document that tries to describe what the church is, does and is supposed to do. It’s long and dense, and includes sentences like, “The word of God is made known to us through the Gospel primarily and normatively borne witness to by the apostles, making the communion of the faithful a community that lives in, and is responsible for, the succession of the apostolic truth expressed in faith and life throughout the ages.”
It’s not the easiest text to read – especially if it’s not in your first language.
But the question it tries to answer is important: what, exactly, is the church?
For some Christians, the church exists wherever followers of Christ gather together. For some, the church is wherever the Lord’s Supper is shared. For some, the church is wherever tradition has been passed down from the first apostles. For some, the church is wherever the Scriptures are read and the gospel preached. For some, the church is wherever Christ’s healing ministry takes place.
The NMC writers had a difficult task: trying to describe the church in a way that all of us can say, in one way or another, “yes, that’s the church I know.”
For better or worse, the past two days showed that while we appreciated all the work that’s been done, the document is not quite ripe yet. It needs more development, more time, more editing, more balance. In general, the Protestant churches were most likely to feel like, “this still doesn’t quite reveal the church we know.” We’re getting closer to common vision, but we’re not there yet.
So, my friends and colleagues, I want to know: how do you know the church when you see it?