In my last blog, I indicated that we probably needed to be aware of some of the dominant images of the church, and of church culture, that may well distort our understanding of the church as the communal incarnation of God’s New Creation/Kingdom. So what do we have? I always ‘cover’ myself by inserting the words complex and ambiguous at this point since there is no nice, neat, clean description that covers the enormously diverse expressions and traditions that are present with the church in the world. In a sense, the word: provisional covers the ‘always-in-process’ of the church in the world. The church is also, not infrequently, quite messy. The church is, after all, composed of those of us who come in all degrees of brokenness, need, psychological snarls, etc. It includes, in all of its expressions and traditions, episodes of heartening faithfulness and obedience, but also of discouraging contradictions, error, internecine strife, etc. It comes in so many traditions: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, Independent, spontaneous, house churches, … and … none-of-the-above.

So, what are we looking for? For my part, I have retrieved from the New Testament, what I call my Eight Signs of Authenticity (explicated in more detail in Enchanted Community: Journey Into the Mystery of the Church).

First: The church must, first of all, be Doxological, i.e., it must exist deliberately and self-consciously for the glory and honor and praise of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Second: The church is ultimately the creation of the Holy Spirit. It is not possible as a merely human construct. Apart from the Holy Spirit it is impossible to open eyes, unstop ears, change lives, and to deliver men and women from the dominion of darkness into the dominion of God’s dear Son (which is also behind the fourth sign concerning prayer, below). The church is the dwelling place of God by the Spirit.

Third: Always, always, … Jesus Christ must be the focus and center of the church: his life, death, resurrection, and teachings must be the foundation of the church, and, by them, the church must always be formed. All things exist by and for Jesus Christ. When the church becomes centered on its own inner life and not on Jesus it forsakes its authenticity.

Fourth: In the church, prayer must be a primary activity, since what we are commanded to do by Jesus Christ is not the work of merely human skills, or intelligence, or organizational skills. The work of being the missionary agents of God’s New Creation is only possible as we are in communion with the life and power of God through prayer.

Fifth: The word of Christ must be known and must “dwell richly” and be obeyed within the church so that the church is authentically “the body of Christ” in self-understanding and mission.

Sixth: The church, to be the church, must be the demonstration of the love of God for “one another,” and to all humankind. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples …”

Seventh: [Take note] The church is the communal demonstration of the radical and counter-cultural, redemptive, and reconciling teachings of Jesus in both its thinking and its behavior—in its obedience to Christ’s commands. It is light in the midst of darkness, and so is confrontational.

Eighth: The church is always self-consciously engaged, communally and individually, in the mission of God to see his “gospel of the Kingdom” heralded to next door, and to every ethnic group on this globe (Matthew 24:14).

Those are Bob Henderson’s eight signs of authenticity that I look for in determining what the church is to be and do in its calling by Jesus Christ in order to be authentic as his holy nation—in whatever form.

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About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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