910) Church

N. T. Wright; Pastor, Scholar, Author, Anglican Bishop

By N. T. Wright (1948- ), Simply Christian, 2006, Harper Collins, page 123.

     I use the word “church” with a somewhat heavy heart.  I know that for many of my readers that very word will carry the overtones of large, dark buildings, pompous religious pronouncements, false solemnity, and rank hypocrisy.  But there is no easy alternative.  I, too, feel the weight of that negative image.  I battle with it professionally all the time. 

     But there is another side to it…  For many, “church” means just the opposite of that negative image.  It’s a place of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life.  It’s where the homeless drop in for a bowl of soup and the elderly stop by for a chat.  It’s where one group is working to help drug addicts and another is campaigning for global justice.  It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry that purpose out.  It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover, in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  No church is like this all the time.  But a remarkable number of churches are partly like that for quite a lot of the time. 

     Nor must we forget that it was the church in South Africa which worked and prayed and suffered and struggled so that, when major change happened and apartheid was overthrown and a new freedom came to that land, it came without the massive bloodshed we were all expecting.  It was the church which stayed alive at the heart of the old Communist eastern Europe, and which at the end, with processions of candles and crosses, made it clear that enough was enough.  It is the church which, despite all its follies and failings, is there when it counts in hospitals, schools, prisons, and many other places…

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The church is like Noah’s Ark: if it were not for the storm on the outside, no one could stand the stink on the inside.

–An old definition of the church, more fully explained by Presbyterian pastor and author Frederick Buechner (1926- ) in Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary, 1988, in this definition of “NAVE”:

     The nave is the central part of the church… where the laity sit.  It takes its name from the Latin ‘navis,’ meaning ship, one reason being that the vaulted roof looks rather like an inverted keel.  A more interesting reason is that the Church itself is thought of as a ship, or Noah’s Ark.  It’s a resemblance worth thinking about.

     In one as in the other, just about everything imaginable is aboard, the clean and the unclean both.  They are all piled in together helter-skelter, the predators and the prey, the wild and the tame, the sleek and beautiful ones and the ones that are ugly as sin.  There are sly young foxes and impossible old cows.  There are the catty and the piggish and the peacock-proud.  There are hawks and there are doves.  Some are wise as owls, some silly as geese; some meek as lambs and others fire-breathing dragons.  There are times when they all cackle and grunt and roar and sing together, and there are times when you could hear a pin drop…

     It’s not all enjoyable.  There’s backbiting just like everywhere else.  There’s a pecking order.  There’s jostling at the trough.  There’s growling and grousing, bitching and whining.  There are dogs in the manger and old goats and black widows.  It’s a regular menagerie in there, and sometimes it smells to high Heaven like one.

     But even at its worst, there’s at least one thing that makes it bearable within, and that is the storm without— the wild winds and terrible waves and in all the watery waste no help in sight.

     And at its best there is, if never clear sailing, shelter from the blast, a sense of somehow heading in the right direction in spite of everything, a ship to keep afloat, and, like a beacon in the dark, the hope of finding safe harbor at last.

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Ephesians 2:19-21  —  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

Colossians 3:12-16  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

II Corinthians 13:11  —  Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!  Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.

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Most gracious Father,
we pray to you for your holy Church.
Fill it with all truth;
in all truth with all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it.
Where it is in error, direct it.
Where anything is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, heal it and reunite it in your love;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

–William Laud  (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury

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