Thursday, 17 January 2013

What, then, Is "The Church"?

You might have to forgive me, but once again I am going to apply my experiences of my last life into the realm of my present life in ministry!

One of things that annoyed me about employment contracts was that sense that the employee is the employee and "the Company" the company. Distinctive, separate. In fact, so frustrated was I by the wording of some Terms of Employment that I was once asked to consider that I caused a little bit of hoo-ha by reminding "the Company" that it was the sum of the parts of its employees and that as such the document was built upon a false premis. I already sense the contract lawyers among you twitching, but I claim this as a moral perspective, not a legal one (and yes, there is a distinction there too, at times).

In the world of Social Media that I inhabit all too infrequently these days, there are many who have written many words in recent months condemning "the Church" (and in this case, the English Church). The perspective is rooted in that of the Terms to which I referred above - "I" am I and they are "the Church". In the processes surrounding the creation of English lady-bishops (among so many favoured issues these days), there has been a sudden lurch in this tendency. So let us unpack it. 

  • Is "the church" an organisation from which I can exist separately as a member?
  • Is "the church", then, an administrative body based somewhere away from me?
  • Is "the church" the bishops?
  • ... and so on
I think that the answer is 'no' to all of these things. For me to stand and condemn "the church" in my blog rantings (as so many have and routinely do, because blogs are safe places to insult people and institutions, aren't they) is for me to create a distinction between them and me. If we apply this to the average family model, can I stand separately from my family unit with any integrity and condemn them all? I think probably not. 

What I am struggling to express is that "the church" is me, it is you, it the person with whom I disagree and the person whose sympathies I share - and therefore not someone or something else. It is me with Mrs Miggins in Pontefract whom I have never met. The Synod is not the church, nor the Houses, nor Watch nor Reform - yet their members are. We are many who are one body. In our differences, we are the same. We are distinct and we are similar. 

I think the bottom line is this: when the blogging community lambaste the Church they are lambasting me and Mrs Miggins. Perhaps it is easy to step outside of the circle and throw brick-bats back into it, yet the most important thing that we often overlook in our words and sentiments, is when lambasting the Church, people are indeed indulging in a little self-serving masochism. We are a group of disparate individuals, all chosen by God to one accord - to form a frail association of the like-minded on Earth so that we can get on with the ridiculous responsibility of bringing to life none less than God's own Kingdom. 

And I still support bishops with other chromosomes than me. For the record. 


  1. I pretty much agree with every word (you will be surprised to hear), and add that for me, the inclusiveness of the 'Church', is the very best thing about it and any attempt to separate it into individuals is self-defeating.
    That is not to say that we are one amorphous mass without individual ideas, opinions and rights, but just that together we form the basis of all that is good about the Christian Church.
    Faith may well be able to move mountains, but faith x a million can reshape the world.

  2. A perceptive friend of mine in Uganda (who is now a bishop, no less) once told me - when I was moaning about the church/The Church - "Brother, you are stabbing yourself!"

  3. A good perspective, reminding us that we are all members of one body.

    Cutting off the hand that causes you to sin (Matt 5.30) might be a good idea, but is messy and causes a new disablement. So, much of our rhetoric might be doing just that?



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