Our doors and grounds are closed, but our ears and hearts are open.

What Makes the Church Really Be a Church?

From Rev. Eric Carswell, Head Pastor
May 11, 2020

We know that a building and attractive grounds don’t fundamentally define the quality of a church. They’re useful, but by themselves they accomplish little. Having a knowledgeable and energetic staff also doesn’t make the church. Even having an energetic congregation doesn’t make a church truly be what a church should be. Doing lots isn’t enough.

A fundamental definition of the church is contained in the following quotation.

The term “Church” is not used because it is the place where the Word is and teachings drawn from it, or because it is where the Lord is known and the sacraments are celebrated. Rather it is the Church because it lives in accordance with the Word or with teachings drawn from the Word, and seeks to make those teachings its rule of life. (Arcana Caelestia 6637:2)

We, as a church, have been supporting many forms of learning whether it is the Young Children’s Church, Informal Family Service, Cathedral Family or Adult service, various doctrinal classes or Bryn Athyn Church School, not to mention the education provided by the ANCSS and Bryn Athyn College. And we also know “doctrine is worthless unless we become what it teaches us to become — that is, unless our goal is to use it in our lives (Arcana Caelestia 1515).

A church should be dedicated to providing settings in which people seek the Lord’s wisdom and help in changing their lives. A church is supposed to help guide, encourage, and support people on their spiritual journeys. Each one of us is to learn and then daily strive to live according to what we’ve learned.

Even in the current time of social distancing, I’m aware of people actively caring for the welfare of others. People are thinking about those who have not been able to continue in their jobs. People are thinking of those who might be lonelier in their home isolation. They are thinking about local health care workers and others who might benefit from their talents making personal protective equipment. There are people to celebrate, at a distance, the good things and people to provide support when tragedies occur. I am grateful for all these efforts. They are indications of what a church can be.

When we are individually doing this work of living good lives because this is what the Lord wants us to do, then the congregation as a whole takes on more and more of the qualities of a heavenly community. Each person benefits from the efforts and loving care of others and that person contributes to the welfare of others using his or her unique motivations, understandings, and skills. And as with any heavenly community there is rejoicing when new people are welcomed into it. The more people there are, trying to be led by the Lord, bringing a different perspective and ability, the more perfect the church will be.

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