I just discovered my friend Jim Wilson's blog The Kingdom Works. Jim and I have very different perspectives on theology and politics, which, frankly, makes friendship interesting and challenging in a positive sense.
I am perhaps an unusual blogger, since I started a blog before I had spent any time reading them. So, I am trying to do a little more blog-surfing to see what's out there.
Jim's blog directed me to an article on how an Anglican converted to the Catholic faith, which also directed me to another article that harshly critiques it from a Lutheran perspective.
I am not interested in being polemical or anti-Catholic or anything. This all got me thinking about the nature of the Church. The basic Lutheran definition of the church is "the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel" (The Augsburg Confession, VII). Although this definition comes out of the Lutheran church, it was put forth as an ecumenical proposal. Where you stand in any hierarchical relationship is not essential; to what particular body of Christians you belong is not essential. Whether you belong to Paul, Cephas (Peter), or Apollos is not essential (1 Cor. 1:12). Wherever you see the good news of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ proclaimed, and wherever you see the holy things of God (Baptism, the Lord's Supper) taking place in a gospel way, there is the church.
Every church is an assembly of believers, a congregation of followers of the Way of Jesus Christ. When I think of our congregation here on the Iron Range, with our friends in the Roman Catholic church a block away, and a Serbian Orthodox church down the road, it is incomprehensible to think that one of us is closer to God, more orthodox, more 'church' because of the hierarchical structure of which we are a part. That seems irrelevant to whether or not the gospel is preached and received in the local congregation. Such human structures aid in the preservation and passing on of the good news of Jesus Christ; they neither create it nor bind it. Nor is our Lutheran church any further away from the apostles than a Catholic or Greek Orthodox church, simply because we do not reside in their hierarchical structure. The Greek Orthodox Church has preserved much of the tradition of the early Greek church; the Roman Catholic Church has preserved much of the tradition of the Western Latin church. Both have rich, deep traditions of doctrine and piety. As a Lutheran, I have no problem recognizing them as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow churches; but the Holy Spirit is not bound to them. The questions for any congregation are: Is the good news proclaimed? Is the good news communicated in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine of communion?