Friday, March 14, 2014

What is "The Church"?

"The Church" is many things, depending on the application and what is meant by the person using the term.

I know that's incredibly vauge, but it has to be - since it's such a subjective, abstract, malleable term.

When I use the term, I usually try to differentiate by using "The Church" to mean the entire LDS Church - or the global church leadership - or the prevailing doctrinal viewpoint - or something like that vs. "the church" to mean the local church unit or simply the meetinghouse. However, just like I did in the last sentence, I almost always have to use disclaimers or modifiers or descriptors when I make such distinctions - since they generally aren't going to be understood on their own as isolated terms. ("The Church" vs. "the church") Therefore, my most common shorthand is "The global Church" or "the local church".

Those two entities are radically different organizations. For example, all LDS members and I share membership in the same Church, but our churches sometimes are very, very different. I have found that most members can overlook a lot of things that bother them about "The Church" to which they "belong" as long as "the church" they "attend" is a welcoming, accommodating place. I also have found that many members can overlook a lot of things that bother them about "the church" as long as they have had an experience (or experiences) with "The Church" that is transcendent in some way. When the two are aligned positively, it's Nirvana; when the two are in conflict, it's manageable (and even can be uplifting and growth-inducing); when the two are aligned negatively, it's very difficult. There is a baseline "tipping point" in this balance that varies for each individual - and those who leave generally do so, in my opinion, when NEITHER "The Church" nor "the church" provides enough growth, empowerment, peace, etc. to make the required sacrifices worthwhile to them personally.

Therefore, the initial pursuit for many who struggle is the search for a paradigm that will allow them to find balance in the force, so to speak - something positive about their interaction with "The Church" and/or their involvement in "the church" that will counteract the negative in the other. That is a good and necessary endeavor, but it isn't the foundational pursuit I believe is the best endeavor for those who don't want to leave. Fundamentally, I believe the ultimate endeavor is to figure out one's view of God and "true religion" and then to pursue THAT objective within "The Church" and/or "the church" (and it really can be one or both, depending on which one works best for each person).

So, to reiterate, "The Church" can be whatever we individually make of it - understanding that it isn't just one thing, even though it really is "something" or "some things". We really can become agents unto ourselves in how we navigate our own path within both - and that truth really can make us free.


ji said...

I also find it helpful sometimes to differentiate between the general, or administrative, church and the local, or pastoral church. But even then, I remember that the church is a gathering of people, including me.

We take the church for granted, but it can be useful to imagine the absence of the church. Without the church, I might know the gospel message but there is no community of fellow believers, no building to meet in, no organ to help me sing, and no records to record on earth so that recording can also occur in heaven.

I realized long ago that my calling is in my local church, and that is where my duty is. I am perfectly happy to sustain others whose calling is in the general church, and to let them magnify their callings. Sometimes there is some dissonance, but that's normal -- there is some dissonance in every family. An expectation of no dissonance is an unreasonable and unrealistic expectation.

It really is beautiful and wonderful.

Papa D said...

Amen, ji. Thanks for this comment.