Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It Doesn't Work That Way

There's a new church coming to our little town. The sign out front says the first Sunday for worship will be on July 12. When we moved here, an insurance salesman worked out of the building. But then a "for sale" sign went up and the place has been vacant for over four years.

My husband and I have talked about the place. It has character. An old Methodist or Congregational church building. Not sure which. But now somebody has a new shingle hanging for everyone to see.

Victory Church.

Not a denomination, at least in the traditional sense of the word. Independent. Non-denominational. A stand-alone church. Ties to no one.

While it is good to see something moving into the old building, I have trouble with these start-up churches. But really, what I think doesn't matter all that much. What matters is what Our Lord had in mind for His Church. At the end of the post, I have highlighted a quote by Tertullian (160-220 AD), taken from "On the Prescription of Heretics". It seems to suggest that setting up churches is just fine - provided the church that is being established is apostolic - and holds to the one faith. Now, I know what that means. And I know what that doesn't mean.

The apostles went out and planted churches, and they carefully passed on the same faith to each church (Pauline Letters are helpful here). And so that the one faith would not die with them, they chose apostles to take their place. And these apostles went out and did as those before them. And each of these passed on the faith to the next generation, who received the laying on of hands from the apostles (who came from apostles, who came from apostles, and so on). Apostolic succession. An unbroken line of apostles for over 2000 years. No stand-alone churches here. Nobody starting a church of his own or by his own authority.

No lone rangers. But rather, each one connected to the other and to those who came before them. All the way back to St. Peter.

Victory Church is definitely not apostolic - not according to Tertullian, writing in the 2nd century:

They set up churches in every city. Other churches received from them a living transplant of faith and the seed of doctrine, and through this daily process of transplanting they became churches. They therefore qualify as apostolic churches by being the offspring of churches that are apostolic.
Every family has to be traced back to its origins. That is why we can say that all these great churches constitute that one original Church of the apostles; for it is from them that they all come. They are all primitive, all apostolic, because they are all one. They bear witness to this unity by the peace in which they all live, the brotherhood which is their name, the fellowship to which they are pledged. The principle on which these associations are based is common tradition by which they share the same sacramental bond.


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