Lesson 19: Summary

Holding handsPerhaps it is time to wind up this little experiment. Five months ago, I set out to discern some marks of a gospel community. At the time, I was not sure where I was going. People kept telling me the church had changed drastically since I retired twenty years ago. Many were no longer worshipping, especially young people. The conflict between liberals and conservatives in the church became bitter and mean-spirited. Sadly, this split primarily reflected what was happening in society at large. In addition, the pandemic forced the abandonment of old and the introduction of new practices.

I thought I was observing a separation between the church as an institution practicing rituals and preserving dogma and the church as a community following the lifestyle of Jesus. I was also responding especially to a couple of you who often challenged me when I used the term “church,” voicing your belief that there was nothing we could really identify with it.

Looking back, I imagine I sensed where I would end up. I assume Christian salvation involves transformation, a continual change of heart, mind, and action. If God comes to heal his corrupted creation, it is not enough to admire Jesus and never consider living by his teachings. Justification by grace through faith should not be defined as justification for our continuing to live in sin.

Without discounting 2000 years of developing tradition, I felt we had to reexamine the traditional marks such as word and sacrament, explaining what they mean in our technological age. It just seemed natural to start that by going back to the gospels.

When I did that, three marks fairly jumped out at me. Jesus’ community shared its wealth making sure all had enough, extended intimate love beyond the family (even trying to love the enemy), and ate together recognizing Christ’s presence at its meals.

There were certainly other possibilities, but these three seemed basic. They also are the ones that appear in Acts’ description of the first church. I honestly did not notice that until after I went through the gospels.

There is a question of what you do with this. I don’t think many are ready to enter a monastery in hopes of finding such a community. Perhaps it is enough to keep in mind the type of community that God promises as we do the best we can to approximate it now. That means recognizing g these marks as we continually reform the Church.

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