Friday, April 10, 2015

What Is "the church"? Listening to Others Is Important

I have had nearly innumerable conversations, over a long period of time, in which someone will mention "the church" - or "The Church".  I always try to focus intently in those conversations to understand exactly what the person means when they say that, since it isn't clear immediately in many cases.  Aside from the difficulty in speaking about a collective body as if it was monolithic, I simply want to point out the following possibilities for what someone might mean when they speak of "the church".

1. a building designed for public forms of worship, esp Christian worship
2. an occasion of public worship
3. the clergy as distinguished from the laity  (regular membership)
4. (usually capital) institutionalized forms of religion as a political or social force: conflict between Church and State
5. (usually capital) the collective body of all Christians
6. (often capital) a particular Christian denomination or group of Christian believers
7. (often capital) the Christian religion

There is value and difficulty in each of the definitions above, but I think it's critical to understand and remember that when one person says "the church" or "The Church" that person often means one of the above definitions, while the person hearing it often thinks of a different definition. That alone causes as much confusion and disagreement as anything else.

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