Allowing myself to dream for a moment. What would my ideal church be like? Here are a few features. What would be on your list?
- Gospel-preaching. My ideal church would definitely proclaim the gospel: the good news that Jesus came to earth, died and rose again to rescue us from sin and death. He didn't come simply to make us feel good about ourselves, or to set an example, but to do something on our behalf that needed to be done and that we couldn't do ourselves. And this is a message to be shared.
- This-worldly. My ideal church would proclaim a message of good news for this world: that God isn't planning to destroy everything except human souls and whisk us away to live in creation 2.0, but that God sent his son to save the world, and to set it free from its current bondage. The message it proclaims would have the implication that everything in life matters more because of Jesus, not less. This world matters. Work matters. The environment matters. Politics matters. Business matters. Education and scholarship matter. Global justice matters. Poverty matters.
- Bible-believing. My ideal church would recognise the authority of the Scriptures, and seek to hear God speaking to us through them.
- Local. My ideal church would have as its most important "distinctive" its location. It would be a church for the area in which it meets. The people in the church would mostly live in that area. And it would be an expression of God's new humanity, by drawing together a disparate group of people who share nothing in common, apart from their belonging to Christ and living in a particular area.
- Connectional. My ideal church wouldn't be an isolated congregation, going about its work with no sense of connection to the wider body of Christ, whether locally, regionally, nationally, internationally or historically. It would express, both formally and informally, its sense of being part of the body of Christ, and its interdependence on other parts of the body, through time and space. It would recognise that it belongs to the holy catholic church.
- Anglican. Here I'm thinking of the English context. My hunch is that the best way to express a comprehensive unity in the gospel is by belonging to the Church of England. It's a hunch about which I have all sorts of reservations and uncertainties, but I still think it's got something going for it. The values above—gospel-proclaiming, Bible-believing, local and connectional—are all present within the Church of England, both in principle, and, to a not-insignificant degree, also in practice.
- Liturgical. There is great value in the historical worship practices of the church, and it's a shame that many evangelical churches do not draw on these resources. There is a deep formative effect of going through particular motions week by week (not "just" going through the motions, of course!). We need rich liturgies to counter the powerful secular liturgies of our culture. We need formation, not just information.
- Sacramental. Not in a sights-and-sounds and smells-and-bells way. But there will be a real sense that as we meet together and do very earthly, ordinary, physical things (like singing and speaking and baptising and sharing the bread and the cup), that God actually meets us, in the materiality of our worship.
- Simple. Having said those things, I think there should be a simplicity about our worship. Life is too busy and over-full and complicated as it is. Our church life should be a breath of fresh air compared with that.
- Confessing. There would be an expectation that everyone in the church (not just the leaders) will believe the essentials of the gospel. This would probably show itself in the corporate reciting of the ancient creeds of the church.
- Eclectic. There are huge and very silly divisions in the church between people who like one kind of music and people who like a different kind of music. My ideal church would not be afraid to draw on the riches that God has given to us in the different traditions of the church.
- Unpretentious. There should be something very ordinary about the church. An "extraordinary ordinariness". My ideal church would reflect this, probably by not being enormous, and not having an extraordinary building, and not sitting on the cutting edge of this or that.
- Serious but relaxed. A church should be welcoming and friendly, but not trivial.
Of course, my ideal church doesn't exist! (And if it does, I would be bound to spoil it if I joined it!) But it's fun to dream sometimes...
(Also relevant is my post on Rethinking the local church: ecclesiology for spiritual reductionists.)