Then and now, in or out

In the first part of this post I use “evangelical” language.  To understand you will need to pay attention from “then” to “now”.

Recently I remembered that I used to teach that there was a visible and an invisible Church.  By visible I meant a church with a membership role, an organization and regular meetings .  While members of a visible church were considered  “saved,’ no one really knew any one’s true relationship to God.  It is likely that some members of the visible church whom we thought were saved were lost. and  some “outsiders” whom we considered “lost” were saved.

The invisible Church, as I understood it, was composed of everyone who was saved whether a member of a visible church or not.  It was possible that a person could be put out of a visible church and still be a member of the invisible Church.  (Bishop Mack assured those whom he had just excommunicated that “you are still my brother.”)

In 2015, denominations, conferences, and local churches are usually visible as institutions. We don’t speak of the invisible Church any more. Instead we now correctly talk of the Kingdom of God and understand it to be larger than all institutions combined.

Speaking of the  Kingdom of God sounds more Biblical to me than my old invisible Church verbiage.  I perceive the Kingdom of God to be pervasive and enduring.  An ancient poet was comforted by God’s presence. In Psalm 139:7, 8,  he asked,

   Where shall I go from your Spirit?
           Or where shall I flee from your presence?
   If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
           If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

The ancient Psalmist failed to find a way out of God’s presence, and I propose that no one who now lives within God’s realm will find a place to hide.  (I do know some people do not believe God exists so to them my reasoning is not valid.)

Now allow me to speculate further: Today’s visible institutions are in frustrated disarray.  Congregations and conferences are looking for new ways to relate. At the Kansas City Mennonite Convention, delegates struggled with institutional, visible church issues.

At the Harrisburg Mennonite World Conference, the attendees celebrated the expanse of the Kingdom of God on the whole earth. The Kingdom of God is larger than MCUSA and all its visible institutions, larger than the Lancaster Conference, Anabaptist Renewal Circles, and Evana. In or out of earthly institutions. no one is farther away than the closest neighbor, no matter who. We are all to love as we love ourselves.

Where shall I flee from my neighbor?
How shall I flee from her presence?
If I rise to a glorious unknown, my neighbor shines with me.
If my dust falls to dust, my neighbor’s dust mingles with my dust.

God knows all things and loves with grace.mercy and peace in unlimited forbearance .

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
This entry was posted in Biblical Interpretation, Church, Faith, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Then and now, in or out

  1. Audrey says:

    Martin, I think you meant Harrisburg Mennonite World Conference, not Pittsburgh!
    I appreciate your emphasis on “you are still my brother” (sister) – in spite of sharp differences.

    Keep writing! I always share at least part of your posts with MY joy – Ken 🙂

  2. Sam Troyer says:

    I agree with you Martin. My thinking was somewhat the same, so you bring up a good point.

  3. D. Lowell N issley says:

    You’re OK Martin. Thanks for the additional insights!

  4. Lloyd Gingrich says:

    I used to think in those terms. I have come to appreciate the terms.
    “Organized Church” and the ” Church Universal ” A problem arises when the organized church becomes too large. It becomes top heavy. Why should the church in the east tell the church inn the west how too function? Or why should the church in Pa. tell the church in Florida how to function? The church in Jerusalem did not send many rules to the outlying churches. The church functions best at the ” grass roots “

  5. Miriam Showalter says:

    Oh, how beautifully told, and how rationally expressed!

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