More than meets the eye
Last week I posted some initial thoughts on here regarding different historic images of church, and how they relate to the way we see it now. Since then, my conversations have led me to believe that it might be helpful to develop each of them a little further.
Like the logo itself, the strength of this image lies in its sense of gathering. Here are people called out of their immediate community and into a gathering for the worship of God. With it, the calling brings a sense of security and aspiration: ‘God wants us here’. Gathered under such a banner, the church has withstood much violence and oppression down through the centuries. The sense of belonging has also been a motivator for what we might crudely term ‘recruitment’. Since belonging is a good thing, and brings benefits both temporal and eternal, we want others to share it. It was the gathered church in Antioch, for instance, which felt overwhelmingly convicted to send out its brightest and best that others might be called. (Acts 13 v.2) The negative side of this image is that it reinforces a divide between ‘us’ (those safely on the inside) and ‘them” (those exposed on the outside). It is a short step from the thoughts of such division to the language of exclusivity, which compounds the problem.
There is no doubting that the tabernacle was a powerful physical statement. These people travelled with God, and neither they nor he were to be messed with. You have only to stand beneath the shadow of a soaring cathedral spire, or even a fairly modest church building, to see a similar statement. The people who erected this building were prepared to put money, time , labour, and not a small amount of love into this physical demonstration of their loyalty to God. Standing, as they still do in many a town, city, and village – their witness lingers on. However, like anything with walls they can keep people out as well as holding them in. The reassurance we derive from the fact that our church stands, may detract from the obligation which we have to stand as well. In these Covid-times, when we can enter buildings only under strict limitations, and use them only in limited ways this particular image sits awkwardly with our current experience..
For many of us, this is the least familiar image. The monastery, high up the mountain with its view of God above and the world below is alien to us. That said, many have found that their home has become their ‘cell’ in the most positive sense. From it, they have looked out on a world wracked by impotency in the face of the pandemic, and prayed for it as never before. The world has listened, for instance, to the UK Blessing in unbelievable numbers, as they might once have done to the voice of the monks who pray for them whatever their own personal beliefs. Maybe we have learnt to take on some sort of responsibility for a world in need during this season, as we have not done before?
In my discussions of the initial post, it is this image which has brought about the most conversations. This is partly because the term, and the concept are unfamiliar. To many, it feels like a description of the way things are. Here we are, all pursuing our Christian calling in our own way, and yet belonging to something greater. We log into video calls or prayer meetings or even communion on an occasional basis. In the meantime, we all try to live by the calling and covenant which binds us. However, to say that this is a description of how things are is not to say that it is a description of how people would like them to be. Not only that, but if this were to work, then our sense of ourselves as a covenanted community would have to be a lot stronger than it is now.
The church is, in Calvin’s words semper reformanda, or forever changing. How do these images cause you to reflect on current changes within it, I wonder?