I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (1 Corinthians 3:2)
I have had many discussions with my apologetics-inclined friends on the nature and purpose of church. One thing I have heard again and again is the notion that all churches–even all services–should be seeker-friendly or should reflect what C.S. Lewis calls “mere Christianity.” Mere Christianity, as defined by C.S. Lewis, is essentially that which all Christians everywhere have believed.
Interestingly, I have run into several people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds who have told me that they think all churches should be “mere Christian” churches centered on apologetics. The point of church on this view is to evangelize and to provide Christians with reasons to believe what they believe.
Statements like this are repeated by many of my apologist friends. I had a conversation with one friend in which I was informed that the purpose of church was to evangelize, and what better way to do that then to go to “mere Christianity” and have every service revolve around apologetics discussion. That’s right, this person–and others I have talked to–said that every sermon, every service, every time the church meets should be about apologetics and should not focus on those doctrines which have caused so much division within the body of Christ.
As an apologist with an MA in the field, this has some appeal! After all, were all churches to do this it would certainly raise my “employability” quotient! I would be in demand every single Sunday. But realistically, I think that statements like this show underlying confusion about the nature of church and the importance of Christian doctrine.
The Point of Church
There is no way for a complete, systematic outline of what church is about in a post like this. Nor would I claim to be an expert on the doctrine of the church. So, at risk of being simplistic, I would say that the meaning of church is to glorify God. How is this done?* I think it’s clear that the creedal statements about the church accepted throughout the history of Christianity (dare I say, the “mere Christian” definition of church?) is that it is “holy” and a “communion of saints” (Apostles’ Creed) and it is “holy and Apostolic” and “catholic/universal” (Nicene Creed).
A church should not be a place which wards off those who are seeking, but the ultimate purpose of church, confessed for over a thousand years, is to be “holy” and a community of saints. The body of Christ is not immediately perfect; but the point of church is to have community with fellow saints–the Body of Christ. Worshiping and glorifying our Creator and Redeemer is central to the life of the church. If we abandon that, we abandon the very reason for having community to begin with.
Whatever vision we have of church, then, should incorporate how the church has always defined itself. A primary need for the Christian is to worship and thank God for the blessings poured out on us each and every day. The community of believers longs to worship Christ, to join the company of angles to laud and magnify the name of the Most High God.
Moreover, when we look at the verse I led this post with, the church is a place to get the “solid food” believers need to go beyond the “milk.” Churches instruct the community in how to move beyond the “milk” of “mere Christianity” and acceptance of the bare minimum and into “solid food” and a fuller understanding of God’s word.
I have my own vision of what a church that is focused on apologetics would look like.
The “Apologetics Church” would have a study group for both youth and adults to participate in which focused upon various apologetics issues. The group would start at a basic level, teaching on the nature of apologetics and its methods, then move into individual objections to the Christian faith.
The pastor would have studied apologetics on his/her own and would integrate apologetics into sermons when appropriate (Easter would be a great time to talk about evidence for the resurrection, for example). The church would have a monthly “outreach night” in which the local community was invited in to discuss questions about the faith and simply engage in dialogue over desserts or a snack. The church would have groups that went to a movie, or an art show, or a concert, etc. and then met afterwards to discuss the implications of that media for the Christian worldview.
It would be a church aware of, but not overtaken by, apologetics. It would be an evangelical, mission-oriented church, but not a missions-only church.
I have said only the bare minimum about the nature of church and its function. Ultimately, though, I think a vision of the nature of church should include apologetics, but it should not be reduced to it. We seek “solid food” and long for deeper knowledge of God. Your church is an excellent place to get that needed, longed-for instruction.
As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for you.. (Psalm 42:1)
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The Church Universal: Reformation Review– I take a deeper look into the definition of a “universal church” in a post that focuses on theology of the reformation.
*As a Lutheran, I would say that glorifying God in church is best done through Word and Sacrament, but I realize that not all churches are sacramental and do not desire to start that debate here.
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