That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. – 1 John 1:1-3
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
The part of this passage I want to focus on is this: ... and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. For those of us who are either not part of a traditional communion or are perhaps somewhat ambivalent about our participation, to me, this seems to be something to keep in mind.
To some extent I agree with those who maintain that the sacraments and the communion of the saints are vital to our life in Christ. Corporate worship can be uplifting and refreshing. We are called to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together because we benefit from the support, encouragement and accountability we share with others. If we are known to be believers and a part of a local church, we are very much representatives of that body. How we behave reflects upon the Church Universal as well as back on the brothers and sisters in our congregation.
As I was saying at OC yesterday, we have direct access to God, and I am one who, more or less, accepts the priesthood of the believer, as Peter says: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
I have always struggled with the idea of authority. No king but King Jesus always sounded good to me. I answer to God, but it is equally true and certainly necessary that – authority aside – I must answer to my brothers and sisters as well. In fact my experience has been that whether they are Catholic priests or Protestant preachers, those who begin to think they have no accountability to the “flock”, who see themselves as shepherds only and not the “sheep of His pasture” themselves are most likely to go astray.
You can tell me about Moses and David and Saul until you turn plumb blue, a cult is inevitably marked by a leader or leaders who are above being criticized, corrected, and called out by their followers. If I ever (again) found myself in a church where I could not approach the leadership with a compliant or concern without being considered out of order and insubordinate, I would leave. In a hurry.
I have known these guys. I have seen them both big-time and small-time surround themselves with a magic circle who tell them what they want to hear. Sometimes they don’t even mean to do it. The point is that authority flowing down can still have a great deal of potential for abuse. Being a part of Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy does not necessarily protect the individual member of the flock from being misled.
Ultimately our fellowship must be with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. If I’m wrong, I may go to hell for this, but I don’t think “church” has to be a formal organization. There are a myriad of benefits to be derived from a strong, solid organization, from a formal set of sacraments and ordinances and disciplines.
Even as I write this, I feel as though I am declaring myself a special case who is himself “above” the Church. I don’t want to do that, and I don’t mean to do that. I think the vast majority of Christians derive a great advantage from belonging to a local congregation, an organized and formalized communion, and Catholicism is a good one. This is especially true for those with children in need of foundational religious instruction and direction. I thank God that I went to church as a child and as an adolescent. Those lessons and that discipline have never left me. If I am able to stand now without being tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes, it is because those elemental truths were driven in deep and anchor me solidly still.