An ideal church – a collection of thoughts
The following are summaries from two books by Elton Trueblood. Trueblood was a philosopher/theologian who taught at Stanford and Harvard, among other places of learning, was a friend to presidents and other world leaders and wrote dozens of excellent books. Mostly importantly, he was an amazing man of God. Read below how Trueblood defined the church universal, according to his best understanding. — Gary Williams
Excerpts from Alternatives to Futility, by Elton Trueblood
The early Church turned the world upside down. No one would accuse the Church of doing that today. The early Church at first had no buildings, no separated clergy, no set ritual, no bishops, no pope – yet it worked.
What are the characteristics of a church body that might help us repeat the miracle? A healthy church is a redemptive society that gives meaning to history and a sense of human solidarity. Its members grow in faith, encouraged by a special kind of fellowship that allows members to recover a sense of meaning in their lives. They live the truth of being linked to one another, and to history, in the continuum of believers who are in the flow of God’s eternal purpose.
This redemptive society is characterized by:
- An intensive fellowship of
- Members who have a sense of
a. Christ’s vocation
b. An emerging divine purpose
c. Their own vocations as followers of Jesus
- Members who are dedicated
- Members who are able to demonstrate rather than just theorize
- A real sense of equality among the fellowship, in spite of different functions
- Fellowship that is marked by a sense of inner peace in the face of the world’s turmoil
- An almost boisterous, overwhelming joy in loving and serving God
- The ability to maintain a cohesive fellowship, while introducing ideas that are
discordant with society’s beliefs and practices
- An ability to infect the surrounding community with the Gospel
- Moral sensitivity
- Members set free from personal struggles for power, money, and prestige
- There can be no living religion without a fellowship
- Members feel responsible to one another
Millions who once found their chief fellowship in the church, now find it in social groups, clubs, hobbies, and so on. Many of the best people are outside the churches precisely because they are the best people. Becoming disgusted is in their favor. There are churches that accomplish good, but there are also many reasons to be discouraged.
Alienation is often based on the fact that the church demands too little. What we need is a redemptive movement to take our dry bones and make them live – a reformation that unites, that recovers and fulfills the radical nature of Christianity. We need to be sufficiently bold and courageous in creating these new redemptive societies (within the established church, not outside of it).
Important questions to resolve
Should we distinguish between clergy and laity?
Should the Churches own property?
Should real membership be rigorously restricted to the deeply convinced?
Should the normal meeting unit be the small cell rather than large gatherings?
Should regular meals together be incorporated into the fellowship, as was done in the early church?
Excerpts from The Company of the Committed, by Elton Trueblood
The crucial question today is not whether we must have a fellowship, for on that point we are reasonably clear; the crucial question concerns the character of the fellowship. The more we think about it the more we realize that it must be a fellowship of the committed. This is because mere belief is never enough … the chief barrier to a renewed vitality in the Christian society is not lack of belief. Millions … feel no sense of urgency about the Christian endeavor …
One way of stating the crucial difference between belief and commitment is to say that when commitment occurs there is attached to belief an ‘existential index’ which changes its entire character. Belief in differs from belief that, in the way in which the entire self is involved. ‘If I believe in something,’ says Marcel, ‘it means that I place myself at the disposal of something, or again that I pledge myself fundamentally, and this pledge affects not only what I have but also what I am.’ We shall not be saved by anything less than commitment and the commitment will not be effective unless it finds expression in a committed fellowship.
What we seek is not a fellowship of the righteous or of the self-righteous, but rather a fellowship of men and women who, though they recognize that they are inadequate, nevertheless can be personally involved in the effort to make Christ’s kingdom prevail. Perhaps the greatest single weakness of the contemporary Christian Church is that millions of supposed members are not really involved at all and, what is worse, do not think it strange that they are not. As soon as we recognize Christ’s intention to make His Church a militant company we understand at once that the conventional arrangement cannot suffice. There is no real chance of victory in a campaign if ninety per cent of the soldiers are untrained and uninvolved, but that is exactly where we stand now.
If we were to take the idea of a militant company seriously, the church building would be primarily designed as a drill hall for the Christian task force. It would be a place where Christian ambassadors in common life would come together to be trained, to strengthen one another, and to find solitude when it is needed … we may say that the Christian building should be a ‘launching pad,’ a place from which people engaged in secular life are propelled.
The first Christians were sometimes divisive, sometimes snobbish, sometimes deceitful, but they had no doubt concerning the nature of the standard from which they were departing. It was the standard of a loving concern for one another and for all men, in the sense of a burning desire for the welfare of the other person.
The evidence of love as the ultimate mark and test of the (early) Christian community comes from many post-Biblical sources. One of the most moving of all testimonies is Tertullian’s:
‘It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents.‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another … Look how they are prepared to die for one another.’
Justin Martyr supplements this witness, in the conclusion of his description of Christian worship, as follows:
Those who are well-to-do and willing, give as they choose, each as he himself purposes; the collection is then deposited with the president, who succors orphans, widows, those who are in want owing to sickness or any other cause, those who are in prison, and strangers who are on a journey.’
At no point is the need of redemptive fellowship more pressing than in connection with the problem of race … The poor maligned society, the Church, really offers our best hope for the kind of ‘meeting’ without which the race question will not be solved at all.
Trueblood calls for the formation of interracial fellowship groups [in 1961], which he says can be revolutionary in their effect. “In this way people who have lived for years in the same city as strangers, even though employed in the same places, may become actual friends. Their motto may be the words of Christ when He said, ‘No longer do I call you servant …; but I have called you friends’ (John 15:15).”