Saturday, July 15, 2006

Church?

I recently re-read a chapter in a George MacDonald book entitled Robert Falconer. When I first read the book I remember thinking the chapter was very important and that I should re-read it from time-to-time. So anyway, after four years I decided to re-read the chapter the other day. I found some of it so profound that I feel the need to share it here. I will try to do so as briefly as possible. It takes up a couple pages from the book. Much of it is dialogue, so it should read quickly.

The main portion of the chapter involves the narrator of the book meeting a man named Robert Falconer. The two engage in conversation and Falconer asks the man to accompany him on a walk through his neighborhood. For most of the chapter the man simply accompanies Falconer as he walks through a poor neighborhood talking to various individuals. Some of the individuals are his friends, others are new acquaintances. As he walks through the neighborhood and talks with various people, he gives them encouragement, provides them with needed help, and even works with a friend in the neighborhood to provide for the needs of two newly orphaned children. The narrator is amazed that Falconer knows all of these people and is able to quickly meet so many of their needs. The following conversation occurs after their evening walk (which probably lasted at least a couple hours). The narrator is trying to understand how Falconer knows all these people and how/why he is connected with so many of them. He thinks perhaps Falconer is part of a society to help the poor.

“Are you a society, then,” I [the narrator] asked at length.

“No. At least we don’t use the word. And certainly no other society would acknowledge us.”

“What are you, then?”

“Why should we be anything, so long as we do our work?”

“Don’t you think there is some affectation in refusing a name?”

“Yes, if the name belongs to you? Not otherwise.”

“Do you lay claim to no epithet of any sort?”

“We are a church, if you like. There!”

“Who is your clergyman?”

“Nobody.”

“Where do you meet?”

“Nowhere.”

“What are your rules, then?”

“We have none.”

“What makes you a church?”

“Divine Service.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“The sort of thing you have seen to-night.”

“What is your creed?”

“Christ Jesus.”

“But what do you believe about him?”

“What we can. We count any belief in Him – the smallest – better than any believe about him – the greatest – or about anything else besides. But we exclude no one.”

“How do you manage without?”

“By admitting no one.”

“I cannot understand you.”

“Well, then: we are an undefined company of people, who have grown into human relations with each other naturally, through one attractive force – love for human beings, regarding them as human beings only in virtue of the divine in them.”

“But you must have some rules,” I insisted.

“None whatever. They would cause us only trouble. We have nothing to take us from our work. Those that are most in earnest, draw most together; those that are on the outskirts have only to do nothing, and they are free of us. But we do sometimes ask people to help us – not with money.”

“But who are the we?”

“Why you, if you will do anything, and I and Miss St. John, and twenty others – and a great many more I don’t know, for every one is a centre to others. It is our work that binds us together.”

“Then when that stops you drop to pieces.”

“Yes, thank God. We shall then die. There will be no corporate body – which means a bodied body, or an unsouled body, left behind to simulate life, and corrupt, and work no end of disease. We go to ashes at once, and leave no corpse for a ghoul to inhabit and make a vampire of. When our spirit is dead, our body is vanished.”

“Then you won’t last long.”

“Then we oughtn’t to last long.”

“But the work of the world could not go on so.”

“We are not the life of the world. God is. And when we fail, he can and will send out more and better labourers into his harvest-field. It is a divine accident by which we are thus associated.”

“But surely the church must be otherwise constituted.”

“My dear sir, you forget: I said we were a church, not the church.”

“Do you belong to the Church of England?”

“Yes, some of us. Why should we not? In as much as she has faithfully preserved the holy records and traditions, our obligations to her are infinite. And to leave her would be to quarrel, and start a thousand vermiculate questions, as Lord Byron calls them, for which life is too serious in my eyes. I have no time for that.”

“Then you count the Church of England the Church?”

“Of England, yes; of the universe, no: that is constituted just like ours, with the living working Lord for the heart of it.”

“Will you take me for a member?”

“No.”

“Will you not, if ------?”

“You may make yourself one if you will. I will not speak a word to gain you. I have shown you work. Do something, and you are of Christ’s Church.”

-----------------

I think this is really quite profound and reveals much truth concerning the Church. Perhaps more of my thoughts will follow.

What do you think? Do you see anything good in this?

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4 comments:

Rishi said...

I absolutely love this! I remember you showing it to me in your apartment in Temple!

I love how this describes us, and I love how this also shows where we miss, a little bit.

In other words, I think, generally speaking, this describes us, but at the same time I cannot claim that it describes us exactly.

Chris Taylor said...

Adam, this is inspiring! It makes me want to "do something"! Also, the Frank Viola CDs have been tremendous, thank you! Everyone should hear them, notjust everyone in our Church...everyone on the planet. Love you in Jesus!

Len said...

V COOL to hear this from George McDonald.. I read many of his fantasy works but never ran across this one.. profound.. thanks!

I wonder.. if we saw the NT as a missional document.. how would we read Eph. 4? Would we start to see "pastor" not as an ecclesial task but as missional engagement.. and a gift for the world, not merely for the church?

Cyndee said...

Have you read a little book called Compassion?

If you liked the book you just read, Compassion will speak to you as well. It is one of the simplest, yet most inspiring books I have read on Community. It really does basically come down to loving our neighbor.

Authors are Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Definitely worth the read.

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