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What Makes the Church, the Church?
by Joel Settecase
As a punk high schooler growing up in the mean streets of Lombard, IL, I never would have thought I would be writing a blog post defending religion. In fact, I probably wouldn't have known what a "blog" is, considering that was in the nineties, and they had not been invented yet. However, after my initial brow-furrowing and nodding politely while you explained what a blog is, I would probably say something like, "I hate religion, but I love Jesus." Ah, if only I had known about YouTube back then. I could have made myself famous before my time!
Of course, I'm referring to the internet fame garnered by one Jefferson Bethke, the beat poet from Mars Hill (Driscoll's not Bell's). Like Bethke, I wanted to get past religion to the relationship that was hidden behind all those "spare rituals" (as the Cross Movement put it so aptly). I cringed at the idea of churches following tradition. Wasn't tradition for Catholics?
As I've grown grown, and now that I am older, so much older, I have warmed to the Church Institutional. I think, perhaps, the problem people have with the Church (at least people who aren't still hung up on the Crusades) is that they maybe don't understand it. What is the Church? Is it the great moral engine of society? Is it where we go to worship God? Is it some great repository of thousands of years of tradition? Yes, it is, but there is more to it than just that.
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Bethke is absolutely right that religion can be dead and life-denying. Jesus is the most important element of life (is element even an appropriate term? Author? Lord?). But Jesus did establish the Church. What does that say about God's view of religion? I believe we will move closer to understanding this issue when we answer the question: "What Makes the Church, the Church?" As we go, remember, Don't Forget to Think!
The Three Distinguishing Marks of the Church
What makes the Church different from other voluntary civic groups, be they social, political, or spiritual? With all the Christian organizations in existence, where do we draw the line between Church Proper and “parachurch” organizations? How can we tell the true Church from charlatans? The Church is different from other types of organizations because it was directly set up by Jesus. It is also the only organization which carries the means of salvation to the world (Mt. 28). The three marks of the church are Word rightly preached, baptism rightly administered, and communion rightly celebrated. To no other organization have these three elements been designated, and none other has the ability to carry them out…
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