Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Church Organization

I taught Sunday School this past week at NMC. The topic assigned to me was the nature of the Church. I wasn't sure that I had much to say about this, and gave the disclaimer beforehand saying so. And then I went on to make two claims--which may or not be true (again, I don't know that much about this stuff). The two claims (which are really just two parts to one claim) are the following:

The two events most significant in the early centuries of the Church for leading to the Church as institution were these:

1. The delay of the Parousia. That's the fancy word theologians use to mean the 2nd coming of Christ. It sure seems to me that the earliest Christians believed this was going to happen in pretty short order. Then by the time all those who had been with Jesus had died, and then all those who had been with those who had been with Jesus had died, it seemed that the Church would have to hunker down and bit and organize in order to survive. While there are a few comments about the organization of churches (that is, local bodies of believers) in Scripture, it doesn't look a whole lot like they do today (I mean, to whom is the chair of the refreshment committee supposed to report??).

2. Cyprian and the Novatian Controversy around 250 was a pretty big deal too. The church folks were trying to figure out what to do with the apostates who came crawling back to the Church (many of them now that the plague was staring them down). Long story short: Cyprian was very instrumental in making church membership the criterion for inclusion in the family of God. "No one can have God for his father who has not the Church for his mother." Now, it was not good enough to believe that Jesus was Lord. The Church had to let you in (and the Church could show you the door).

We talked then about different systems of polity that exist today: the RCC/Episcopal; the Presbyterian/elder; and the Congregational. It turned out to be a very lively and interesting Sunday School class.

Tomorrow I may hazard some further commentary on the polity situation.

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