What Makes a Church?
Dead Ends and Open Lanes

I. What Distinguishes the Church among Groups?
Christ always has two mediators: Holy Spirit and Church
("The Church's One Foundation").
The practice of procession begins worship services.
"Wandering" Israel (Ex 40:36-38, Num 2, 10:11-28).
Bringing the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6).
Torah procession (hakkafot) in the synagogue (Orach Chaim 149:1, cf. Josh 6)?
The Triumphal Entry? (Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People).
Roman imperial parades.
The mode of procession suggests what distinctly gathers the Church.
II. What Makes and Mediates the Church? Dead Ends
The circumcision party: Works of the Law as social marker (Acts 11:2, Gal 2:12-14).
Being cultural insiders saves us (cultural Christianity? political correctness?).
Moralists: Good behavior (James 2:18-26, Matt 7:21-23).
Being good saves us ('cradle Christianity'? civil religion? Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? 'salt and light'?).
Gnostics: "Secret knowledge" of an elite (cf. Acts 8:18-24).
Mastery saves us (a formulaic Sinner's Prayer? exhaustive Christian knowledge? proposals and activism for a just society?).
Donatists: Moral purity of leaders (cf. 1 John 2:18-20; Rev 2-3).
The character of our authorities saves us (cults of personality? ideological utopianism/radicalism?).
Voluntarist social clubs and mystery religions: Members and their interests (Acts 17:16-21).
Meeting our needs and desires saves us (consumerism? Constantinianism?).
III. What Makes, Mediates, and Unites the Church?
Church unity derives from the oneness of the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:12-13, Gal 3:28).
A wrong construal or abuse: Unitarian homogeneity/totalitarianism.
Church unity derives from the oneness of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit (John 17:20-23).
A wrong construal or abuse: Tritheistic pluralism/anarchy.
Regardless, the Church's unity is God's unity, a gift and reflection of God.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God:
History provides three credible ecclesiological visions ("open lanes"):
IV. Apostolic Succession V. The Word Preached Purely and Kept VI. The Holy Spirit's Powerful Presence
Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans and Episcopalians Protestants Pentecostals (Baptists too?)
Apostolic succession formally connects churches over space and time. Luther on 2 Pet 1:16-21: The Church is "where the Word is unadulterated and kept and loved." (Reformed and Wesleyans include right administration of sacraments.) The Church is where the Holy Spirit dwells powerfully (Acts 8, 1 Cor 12).
Jesus appoints apostles and entrusts his traditions to them as his leader-witnesses (Matt 10:1-23). Jesus' Word is his witnesses' powerful good news (Matt 10:5-15, cf. Rom 1:16-17). Jesus authorizes his witnesses with the Holy Spirit's outpouring (Luke 24:45-49, Acts 2).
They plant churches, lead, then appoint successors.
Overseers (episkopoi, bishops) maintain fellowship with each other (Catholics: and ultimately the Bishop of Rome).
The church is the whole hierarchally interconnected fellowship.
The apostles' authoritative traditions are in the canon of Scripture. The church's life is God's kept promises and answered prayers (Acts 6-9).
Spiritual gifts and fruit are the only final evidence of a church's vitality.
Apostolicity is formal structure, tolerating some diversity but not ecclesiological difference. Apostolicity is fidelity to "biblical" standards. Apostolicity is ordination through the Spirit's anointing, marginalizing polity.
Other communities and their structures are unauthorized, and cannot be the Church. Communities that preach impurely are unauthorized, and cannot be the Church. Communities without the fruit of the Spirit are "dead" (Rev 3:1-6).
Born in an environment of doctrinal, practical, and biblical development.
Born in an environment of intolerable doctrinal and practical drift.
Born in an environment of urgent dissatisfaction.
Yet episcopal communities still find themselves in schism against other episcopal communities. Yet competing interpretations multiply doctrinal statements and dogmatic schisms, because "sola scriptura" in fact relies subtly on the norming of community traditions to make the Bible intelligible. Yet responsivity to 'spirit' lowers resistance to innovation and historical heresies.
These bodies are also notoriously independent and fractious, despite their common 'Spirit'.
Worship begins with a processing organic, sacramental hierarchy. Worship begins with the gospel's proclamation and invites response. Worship begins with inspired praise.
VII. Common Lessons and Common Challenges
The dead ends confuse God's giving of the Church with the fruit of that gift.
The open lanes actually imply and depend upon each other.
Yet they exclude each other to justify themselves.
Word, sacraments, and structure are media of the Holy Spirit,
whose action takes concrete verbal, sacramental, and institutional forms.
Disunity compromises the Church's witness, injures the body of Christ.
For Newbigin, the impasse demands repentance for all, openness to change, and ecumenical reunion.
What does it mean for individual Christians in these divided traditions?