Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Visible Communities in Geography and Daily Work

"If I am right in believing as I do, that the only effective hermeneutic of the gospel is the life of the congregation which believes it, one has to ask about how such congregations may be helped to become what they are called to be. I referred in the last chapter to the contrast, which I suppose everyone has made at some time or another, between the 'ordinary parson-led congregation' and 'something more exciting but less visible.' The idea of an invisible Church is, of course, always attractive for the simple reason that one chooses in the privacy of one's own mind who are the members and who are not. By contrast the Church in the New Testament is represented by visible communities of men and women located in places which can be visited and to which letters can be written. This is not to deny the very important point,... that there is a spiritual reality 'in the heavenly places' which is not visible to the eye of flesh but which is the reality which has visible embodiment in these congregations; that there are 'angels' of churches, spiritual realities which are more than simply the sum of the individual members;... But the 'angels' do not have any impact on events except as they are represented by visible congregations which have a specific location- whether in the primary geographical sense, or in the sense of location within one of the sectors of public life in a complex and multisectional modern society. I have already said that I believe that the major impact of such congregations on the life of society as a whole is through the daily work of the members in their secular vocations and not through the official pronouncements of ecclesiastical bodies. But the developing, nourishing, and sustaining of Christian faith and practice is impossible apart from the life of a believing congregation."

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