We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Great Ends of the Church (xxiii)

FPC, Lowville, NY
For twenty-two posts, we've been working through the Mars Hill Church's eight criteria for what it means to be a local church. As we saw way back in the the first posting (here), Mars Hill applies these criteria to its branch congregations, which it now considers to be churches in their own right rather than "merely" branches of the main congregation. Mars Hill is one of the largest and most influential megachurches in America, and we can assume that its understanding of the church reflects that of many others. From all that I've written during this long series of postings, it should be clear that I personally find these eight criteria helpful but not entirely adequate. My concerns have been mostly matters of emphasis, something more than quibbles but by no means outright rejection.

So, in bringing this series to a close, I thought it might be helpful to take a peek at the official Presbyterian understanding of the church. The following paragraph is taken from our denominational constitution, the Book of Order. Under the heading of "The Great Ends of the Church," it says,
"The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world." (Book of Order 2009/2011)
The church has five tasks: evangelism, fellowship, worship, teaching, and service—all directed to the end that we might show our neighbors what it means to live in faith, what the world might be like if we all did.  That is a pretty good list and a worthy reason for churches to be.  They might even give reason for another series of postings on what it means to be the church—eventually.