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ARTICLE: THE ESSENCE OF THE CHURCH
OUTLINE: Introduction
  Experience versus Essence
  The Essence of the Church
  Renewal for What?


 
Introduction (back to top)
I used to think that when the Holy Spirit led us 'into all truth' Show Bible reference(s) , that this would mean being inundated with new piles of truth! But I am now convinced of two things -
  • That most of us are already encumbered with far more truths than we can cope with!
  • That the work of the Holy Spirit is usually to lead us into the truth about these truths - rather than inflict us with more!
In other words, he enables us to see the priority of certain truths from fringe ones; to know which truths are root and which are fruit; to discern the essential truths amidst the non-essential ones.

Of the Essence
The word 'essential' refers to the real 'essence' of something, and you can immediately see that they each derive from the important Latin word esse, - 'to be'.

People used to distinguish between the nature of a thing's essential 'BEING' (esse) and the elements that existed for its mere WELL-BEING (bene esse).

A Tasty Example
Take an omelette.
What is the essence of an omelette? Or, to put it another way, what remains when non-essentials have been removed?

We can probably make an omelette without water/milk, salt/pepper, ham/cheese/tomato/mushrooms. These things improve an omelette, but are non-essential. The real 'essence' of an omelette is EGG + HEAT. Since an omelette cannot exist without egg-and-heat, egg-and-heat are of its essence.

Discernment
The Holy Spirit is ever active in our spiritual lives to draw-together, unite, and give order. The Devil works to demolish, divide and bring disorder. He knows the essentials of the Christian Church, and his prime task is to undermine by eclipsing or distorting them.

An over-commitment to non-essentials tears the Church apart as our energies get wrongly diverted to secondary matters at the cost of the Church's two tasks - worship and witness.


 
Experience versus Essence (back to top)
Let me explain the heading of this section. Most of us could describe our experience of cars. It takes considerable mental effort to discern correctly the real essence of a car - our experience actually gets in the way!

We need mentally to get far beyond the radio, heater, chrome trim, clock and cigarette lighter if we are to find what a car really is.

Since their invention, cars have accumulated a hundred years' worth of extras!

The Essence
What is the essence of a car?
  1. Small vehicle
  2. With three-or-more wheels
  3. Self-propelled
  4. For road use
  5. Driver-operated
  6. For passengers
The essence is unchanging and very, very important. If a 'car' is large (contrary to 1) it becomes a bus; if 2-wheeled (contrary to 2) it becomes a motorbike; if for land use (contray to 4) it may be a tank; and if for goods (contrary to 6) it becomes a van!

The Church
Now we have learnt to understand a car, we're well on the way to understand the Church because the process of discernment is the same. Our experience of the Church is misleadingly different from her essence, due to twenty centuries of added extras.

Similarly we need to do a great deal of stripping away to find her essence.

(What is immediately apparant is that our buildings - confusingly called 'churches' - are later additions to protect the Church from the weather.)

If you've time list six items you think comprise the essence of the Church before you read on...
(Later take your list and mine to your Christian minister, who will advise you if I've got it wrong!)


 
The Essence of the Church (back to top)
Nothing that the Church can survive without is of her essence, and nothing of her essence can be removed without destroying or changing her.

These six items are the Church's essence -
  1. God's act of Revelation in Jesus Show Bible reference(s)
     
  2. Personal Recognition of item 1 and confession of Jesus as LORD Show Bible reference(s)
     
  3. God's Calling-out (Greek ecclesia) of such believers into Fellowship Show Bible reference(s)
     
  4. The Promised Presence of Jesus in this fellowship of the faithful Show Bible reference(s)
     
  5. The Lord's Commissioning and Spirit-Empowering of the faithful for Evangelism/Evangelisation Show Bible reference(s)
     
  6. The Obedience of the Faithful to their Commission, and Reception of the Spirit for their Mission-task, i.e. the declaration of item 1 above Show Bible reference(s)
     
The messsage of the last item is the event of the first! So the 1-6 sequence is self-repeating (like a film or tape 'loop'). The Church therefore is self-propagating; her growth is in-built; expansion is of her essence.

Like a car, the Church's essence lacks much that we generally assume and experience. What about Sacraments, Scripture, Doctrine, Priesthood, etc. ?

Such things are the cherished first-generation children of the Church. They derive from her essence, born of her for her well-being.

Put simply, it might be suggested that -
  • The Church's Scriptures/Gospel are born of (1).
  • Christian Faith and Worship are born of (2).
  • The Christian Community (living and departed) are born of (3).
  • The Church's Ministry and Sacraments are born of (4).
The essence of the Church is expressed by St. John in 20:19ff.
The Risen Christ comes to his followers: These gathered disciples recognise God's Revelation of himself in Jesus. They acknowledge him as Lord. They rejoice in his Presence. They are sent-out and Spirit-empowered for mission.


 
Renewal for What? (back to top)
Importantly for us, Spirit-empowering is of the essence of the Church, but its purpose is to equip the Church for Evangelism/Evangelization.

The disciples were FIRST commanded to go out, and THEN received their Spirit-empowering.
Is it fair to suggest that for the most part our Spirit-empowering has been enjoyed behind church doors? Is it also possible that the non-essentials of the Church consume so much time and energy that we have little of either left for our mission to the world?

Evangelism is not optional, but 'essential', i.e. of the Church's true essence. Its absence is like a two-wheeled car, it casts doubts on her authenticity! "The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of its non-members".

Our spiritual renewal is not for the blessing of the Church, but to equip her to bless the world.








Copyright John Richards 2002, but waived for users of www.helpforchristians.co.uk



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