There are two significant matters for which I respect Rome (and Constantinople and the others): They have a theology that intentionally transcends politics and they have an ecclesiology. The former subject is the stuff of much church-state discussion, especially in the formation of this nation as a non-church state. The implications of that have been many and the conversations will continue long into the future. Just ask the ACLU, ACLJ, and all the litigants.
The “old” church actually has an ecclesiology. They have structure, leadership, and a coherent mission. But observing the changes in (well, American anyway) one wonders if the protestant movement is not in need of a quality written ecclesiology — and perhaps a revisiting of seminary and college courses — a new theology of the church. Evangelicalism seems to be stuck without a consistent definition of church, both theologically and practically. We leave as almost undefined, and definitely obscure, our fellowship, our evangelism, and our prayer lives.
Many, it seems, have forgotten the redemptive mission and have become missional, replacing spiritual redemption with social redemption. Some, like Campus Crusade (now I’m in trouble) see what remains of the church and use it as a source for people and money. And in response they do not funnel people back into church life. (I do wonder what they teach in their staff ecclesiology classes?)
Individualistic approaches to church frequently revolve around the “where two or three are gathered” principle. Why get involved, or worse yet, be committed, with organized religion. “We’re doing just fne.” After all, it is all about money. Sadly, people do not often exegete the passage and realize (1) this passage is a discussion of church discipline decision, not the campus Bible study, and (2) the two or three are a part of a church, not the definition of a whole church. Over the last couple of centuries or so individualism has given us congregational government, personal calling to ministry without local church affirmation and sending, and churches without body life. And, of course, church-hopping.
There is, of course, more to our problem of individualism than the modernism and liberalism in which we all live. Affluence also separates us. When I was a young believer in high school, the Conservative Baptist pastors would discuss how affluence was destroying the church. I really didn’t understand that — not one bit. Even at age 16 (a believer for 2 years, with maturity to match) I was becoming part of the problem. When a missionary to Jordan, Dave Wilson, spoke at the church missions conference and challenged us to invest in things that will not lose value. Afterwards I asked him if he meant real estate.
I wonder about our sense of spiritual mission. Church planting efforts amount to gathering a core group of believers and then building around more people coming in — all while doing little, or even no, evangelism. We do not teach our young people to lead others to Christ. Small groups are, and this is good, built around improving our fellowship. But the spiritual mission is too-often forgotten. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a sermon that challenged the church to consider the mission field or some other venue of full-time service.
Prayer is another matter. But, like all those other areas of our lives, we would likely rather not ask ourselves questions about how our churches conduct prayer. Do we gather together and bring our concerns to God? Do we pray for the lost, or are we only concerned about Johnny’s cold and maybe a couple of unemployed people? Is our church prayer time reduced to quick, even glib, prayer as a response to the prayer list email, or do we get too many emails to pay any real attention?
The practical ecclesiology — where people share life and mission together — is probably gone for Western culture. That is, at least as long as we remain both affluent and liberal. I wonder what the Holy Spirit will use to drive the church to where it ought to be?