3: Christ, Universal Lord of the Church
To call Christ “the Lord of the Church” is in a way a truism. Christ is by definition the author of our faith, the head of the Church. The Church is in turn the body of Christ, the community of those who profess Christ as Lord and Saviour. Yet we know that alongside these truths we must take account of the reality that the Church – whether in its organisation or individual members – has not always demonstrated the spirit of Christ, has often misunderstood his will, and has not always done his will even when we have understood it. In one sense, then, we could say that Christ is Lord of the Church in the same way that he is Lord of the World – whenever and wherever his Lordship is not only acknowledged, but also truly reflected in action. However, this would be to deny an essential aspect of the Church, and indeed of our relationship with Christ as individuals: The Church belongs to Christ, even when it goes astray. The Christian belongs to Christ, even when s/he fails in obedience.
Salvationist doctrine states that “continued obedient faith” is necessary for us to remain in a state of salvation. In the Norwegian translation, this has become “one must continually obey and have faith”. The translation is unfortunate, because it can imply that any act of disobedience will lead to losing our salvation. This is surely not what we believe. A soldier who rejects the call to officership, for example, is not therefore “a backslider”. Nor is obedience to Christ primarily a matter of obeying laws or commandments. Instead, “obedient faith” describes our personal relationship with Christ. Because I have faith in him, I want to be like him, I want to reflect his spirit in the world. I may not, in my human weakness, have the courage to say “yes” to every opportunity for service that he shows me. I may struggle to make a sacrifice that he asks of me. And yet my innermost desire is to be like him – and it is this that constitutes obedient faith. There is obviously a connection to our holiness teaching here. If we reduce holiness to a legalistic avoidance of deliberate sins, it may be easier to be “holy”, but we are more likely to be seen as self-righteous. A holiness that focuses on living in relation with Christ and growing increasingly like him, will certainly be more fruitful, even when we do not succeed in every aspect of our lives.
In the same way that we as individuals live in this tension, so does the Church as a whole. Christ is Lord of the Church, even when it fails in practice. But just as individual Christians need to grow in holiness, so must the Church. We must strive to narrow the gap between what the Church actually is and does, and the ideal of the body of Christ living his life in the world. This is a challenge which calls us not only to seek personal holiness – but also to consider the way we do business, our management structures, our communication, the way we exercise leadership: In other words, every aspect of our organisation. Do we, in fact, seek the Lord’s will in our decision-making, or are we merely guided by the same considerations as any other agency? Do we allow office politics to dictate our actions, or are we aware of Christ in our midst? Does our leadership reflect the spirit of Christ and the values of the Kingdom – or administrative expediency and current management culture?
The challenge for the Church, then, is the same as it is for any Christian: to be in practice what God has declared we are in principle. Christ is Lord of the Church – but still we must make him Lord in practice. Faced with such a challenge, however, we recognise that Christ is not only Lord, but also Saviour, and it is in his grace that we find the means of fulfilling his calling.