Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Church Jesus did not found. . .

Those who think religion is bad and relationship is good are quick to say that Jesus did not found a church with a mailing address, office furniture, incorporation papers, a constitution and bylaws, and an IRS 990 form to be filed.  Well, yes.  I suppose in one sense you could say that Jesus did not found this nor establish such things and we have added these things both out of necessity and convenience.  But it is a straw man.  In what sense did Jesus not found the institutional church?  You might be able to make a good case that what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God is a perfect illustration of the tension of a church in but not of the world -- living in accordance with laws and rules but not defined by them.

Let me turn it around.  Jesus did not found a church of me and Jesus, a private relationship and an individual one.  You look in vain anywhere in Scripture or the early Church to find such an idea of this being what Jesus had in mind.  It can be invented just like Rome can read back into passages and history from the present to make Peter the first of the popes and to expand the office into the very essence of what church is.  Or Lutherans can take their current call practices and somehow try to impose them upon what happened when Paul went about appointing elders (pastors!) in the congregations he founded.  That said, one thing Jesus certainly did not do was create the individualistic idea so prevalent among modern Christianity today.  Church is not me and Jesus against the world nor is it optional for those who feel they need that sort of thing.

As far as the relationship business, it is foolishness.  Jesus did not found a religion; He established a relationship.  Okay.  Where exactly IS this Jesus with whom you have such a relationship?  Is He imagined in your mind or felt in your heart or experienced in some sort of mystical yet personal sense?  Or is this Jesus accessible where He has placed Himself?  The Church is the place where the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered, where the ministry (office) Christ established is ordered according to His will and purpose, and where the Spirit is at work (calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying).  If you want to have a relationship with Jesus, you have to have a church.  Or do you presume that the Word and Sacraments are your own domain and you are priest and people all in one?

If Jesus is everywhere, He is nowhere.  I do not need a Jesus who is everywhere or one who nowhere.  I need a Jesus who is somewhere, reliably somewhere.  And not in me -- not captive to my reason or imagination or emotion.  Jesus may not have founded the accoutrements were ordinarily associate with modern corporate structures (even for non-profits) but He certainly did not found a church of the individual in which He is merely a passing thought, a momentary feeling, or an opinion (either well formed or foolish).  The sickness of modern Christianity on all sides is the way we disdain the idea of church in favor of a me and Jesus truth and reality.  Does the Church of Jesus Christ have a zip code?  You betcha.  He has a place and a people and He comes to them not in a shared emotion or thought but in the concrete of the Word preached, the absolution spoken, the water applied in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the bread and wine set apart according to His Word and distributed in His name to those who know what they are receiving.

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