“…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
There are many ideas prevalent today as to just what a church should do. Some will say that the Church exists for social action. Some will say that the Church exists to proclaim the Gospel. Others will say that the Church exists to worship. All of those are true, but it needs to be said that the Church is, by her nature, a worshipping body before she is anything else. We who “have been raised with Christ, seek cthe things that are above, where Christ is.” (Col. 3:1) Indeed, the Lord Jesus tells us that the Father is seeking worshippers. (John 4:23) Yet, the Church is not merely formed so that you and I can worship – no – worship is in the Church’s bones, her very character. The Church is the Body of Christ, and being so, she participates in the very life of the Trinity as she gives herself to that divine life, her vocation as a divine humanity.
The Russian theologian Sergei Bulgakov writes:
The idea that the Church is the Body of Christ – who in turn is the God-Man, true God and true Man – evokes the thought that the Body of the Incarnate Christ is the Church, and that in the Church humanity is deified, since members of the Church truly participate in His divine life.
Yes, the Church participates in the divine life of God by grace, and this is worship itself. In planting new congregations, outposts of the Church’s life, we establish a means for the divine life to be made manifest and pervasive in all Creation. This continues what was set in place from the very moment of the Incarnation, the glory of the Lord filling the whole earth, just as Habakkuk foretold: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14) The Church is the inevitable fate, indeed the telos (to use a philosophical word, meaning perfection) of the whole creation. Thus, there can be no such thing as having “enough” churches in a town or city. We cannot be satisfied, we cannot rest, until it is accomplished. As Bishop Stuart Ruch has said: “Mother Church is Inevitable.”
Very often, we do not live in this expectation, or in this understanding, of the inevitability of the Church. We do not take to heart the words of Jesus “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”(Matthew 16:18) Gates are defensive positions. They are made to withstand attack. All too often, we think of the Church as having a defensive mission, but this is not at all the case. The Church is made to be on offense, constantly gaining more ground. In the words of that Wesleyan hymn we sing often at our church plant:
“Fight on, pray on, we are gaining ground, Glory Hallelujah!”
The end of man is the Glory of God, and so it is with the Church. We plant that His glory may reach into all creation. I know of dozens of churches that have been planted in schools, several in bars, many in former car dealerships and auto shops. Churches are planted in homes and offices, in art galleries and movie theaters. In so doing, the Church is taking up a prophetic work – pointing to the day when the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, when all of creation serves as the Church’s Temple.
This work is highly liturgical. In recent years, liturgical scholars have brought us to understand that liturgy is not merely the work of the people, but also work “for” the people. For example, the Eucharist is given from the life of the world, and we who receive it take the very presence of the Lord with us. We pray, not only for ourselves, but for our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and those in authority over us. Church plants, in a unique way, fulfill this particularly Anglican ideal of “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.” We live as we believe. We believe as we pray and we pray as we believe. These three come together in a glorious way, so that the work of the Church is not abstracted from Sunday worship, nor is the liturgy abstracted from the praying life of the people or their work in daily life.
One more thing must be said, and that is a word of encouragement to Anglican church planters who are reading this. And that is to worship well! In the beauty of our liturgical heritage, in the glory of our tradition, not as a performance, but as a wonderful offering, a sacrifice to God. One planting friend of mine made the wise decision that the very first big purchase of their plant would be a gloriously beautiful chalice. Not a hand-me-down. Not a “this will do.” No – a piece of art, adorned with the images of the twelve apostles, and ensconced in the absolute center of this new church’s worshipping life. That was a wise move, a not-so-subtle statement about where this new congregations values are. We plant to increase the worship of the Lord! Let it be so.
Photo “Christian Cross” by Ian Britton via flickr
The Rev. Lee Nelson, S.S.C. is a priest, church-planter, and catechist. He is currently planting churches in Waco and College Station, Texas with the aim of making disciples on college campuses through the planting of Anglican churches. For the last several years, he has served on the Catechesis Task Force of the Anglican Church in North America which produced To Be a Christian, an Anglican Catechism. As a part of this work, he is currently developing a catechetical consulting practice, aimed at coaching and training clergy and laypeople for the work of catechesis.