The Church as Institution, Day Eight

   How does the Church survive? How does the Church flourish?

   The Church offers tremendous assets in the after-life. Non-verifiable though it may be the after-life is a hot topic in every generation. We want to know we will survive beyond a century or so. If we will not survive after death, we want to know why we should not despair now or give ourselves over to existential angst, nihilism or sensual pleasures practiced to distract us.

   The Church offers the kind of communal like-mindedness apt to give form to daily routine. Mundane living does not seem so fruitless if we are part of a spiritual organism growing toward something greater than ourselves. Social scientific studies often indicate religious people live longer, live happier and live together more readily (in marriage, at work, at school and at church meetings). There are definite "right now benefits" to living in a spiritual community.

   Again, the like-mindedness of a community, one that knows the rules it sets and adheres to them, may provide much of the health benefit. This may account for the success of the Church in various settings in history/culture; the great cathedral, the mega-congregation, the store front church, the home meeting congregation. To relax one’s standards may limit the influence of the Church to reach people for any gathering of believers since the basis for earthly gathering seems to be "the things allowed on earth" as "in heaven."

   Ancient paganism (read the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, et al) envisioned the earthly satraps below as reduplicative of the "city in the skies."  By producing a mirror image of the heavenlies on earth the ancients believed they tempted the gods to live with them on earth and prepared themselves for life in the heavenlies later.

   This is not much different from John’s vision of the Christ in the Revelation. He sees the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, coming down from the heavenlies. Then, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world dwells in the midst of His people and dries away every tear. Paradise is achieved as the Garden (Edenic) state is rehabilitated on earth, this time eternally.

   The difference between ancient paganism and the evolving Judeo-Christian theological stance is in the latter’s human focus and in its portability. The prophet looks forward to the day when God will write His Law of Life on the Inner Psyche rather than on tablets of stone. Another prophet looks to a day when a virgin will conceive to bring forth a son, who will be "God" with us. The Son appears in the Christ, human flesh, to supersede the fixed Temple as He establishes the New Covenant in His own body and blood. Far from needing a massive structure, the Son/the Christ elides the former power structure to meet with as few as two who gather for His purpose. They find Him present even though they may enjoy their gathering at the very end of the earth or at the end of the age. He overcomes space and time. He gathers His from time to time and place to place.

   What He does bring to earth from Heaven in Himself is the ability to overcome the individual ego in order to replace its sin damage with a godly ego. The collective consciousness of the Church becomes the consciousness of the Heavenly masses in so much as it does on earth what pleases God in Heaven.

   Apparently, corporate worship pleases God, for it exists in Heaven. The sacrifice of the saints is precious to God, as well as their prayers. It is inconceivable, if this be true, to "waste" time in worship, for worship appears to please God. Worship for the sake of "decision making" is not a new concept (read Acts 2) but there also appear to be numerous corporate worship experiences in Scripture meant to give praise to God and encouragement to the (barely) faithful.

   It seems, then, the Church might be said to exist as it meets for worship and as it gathers around commonly held strictures of meaningful rigor. What costs nothing communicates itself to be of little value. When a local congregation so lowers standards as to become virtually unrecognizable as a meeting place of a divine community, its very lack of shape/identification/boundaries may make it a body "anyone can join" but "no one does."



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