Churches Free to Find Own Expression

Published in the Courier Mail 16 July 07

ONE of the things I love when people come to visit the church community I am part of, is how we are completely different to their preconceived ideas of church.

Aussies generally don’t come along to church expecting to enjoy it. They don’t expect large numbers of young people who are enthusiastic about church. They don’t anticipate bands and lighting similar to what they may see at concerts. They think of church as old, boring and irrelevant. So when they discover Christian churches that are fresh, exciting and contemporary it is quite unexpected.

The recent comments from the Vatican, ratified by the Pope, which indicate views that Protestant churches were “not churches in the proper sense of the word”, but rather “ecclesial communities”, have caused quite a protest from some non-Catholic church leaders.

Cardinal Kasper, responsible for the Catholic Church’s relationships with other denominations, was quoted on Thursday as saying, “The declaration does not say that Protestant Churches are not churches, but that they are not churches in the proper sense, that is they are not churches in the way the Catholic Church understands the word church”. Reports also said he discussed the fact that “Protestant churches do not want to be churches in the sense of the Catholic Church, because they have different ideas of what the church and its ministers should be”.

And you know what? He’s right. There are large sections of the church that do indeed have a very different idea of what the church should be, and what its ministers should be.

I am thrilled to be a part of the large and growing part of the Australian church that is reaching and interacting with its community and that has a growing, multi-cultural and multi-generational congregation. It is an absolute joy to be in a movement that has a large number of young men and women who sense the calling of God and are being trained and released to lead the church. It is very freeing to be in churches that empower every person to be a minister of the grace and goodness of God to those who are around them and encourages them to be representatives of Christ wherever they go.

While the Catholic church may have recently decided to allow greater use of the Latin Mass, there are large sections of the church who are more interested in communicating the gospel in the vernacular of today rather than the vernacular of 1500 years ago.

I admit a personal bewilderment at using a largely dead language to communicate a message of life. However, if that is what some people find helpful in their worship of Jesus Christ, I will gladly affirm their freedom to do so. While we may differ largely in style, and significantly in our expression of church and ministry, there are many things we agree on.

We can continue to work together to promote a culture of life, to feed the poor, to speak out for the oppressed and to bring the gospel to the world in which we live. That, of course, is not very controversial and so is likely to receive little media coverage, yet can quietly influence relationships and dialogue between churches.

The Vatican can continue to build upon its idea of what the church and its ministers should be like, in the same way that Protestant churches can.

The most important thing is simply this: are we loving God with all our heart and others as ourselves?
Ruth Limkin is a Brisbane pastor and writer