The Mark of the Church

The Mark of the Church January 18, 2018


His name was Clement: student of the apostles. He saw a good thing go bad, a good church founder, and he knew what to do. 

What makes a good community go bad? We do not have to guess because church history has been teaching us the answer since the start of the church.

Clement did not have to guess what the apostles meant in the New Testament. He had talked to them.

Joyous news: we can read the students of the apostles! We can see what a church needed in the first or second century of the Faith, and apply some of the universal human truths to our time.

As a bonus, the apostles appointed by the apostles show the continuity of the message. As a result, no well-educated person should assert that Constantine (280-337 AD) “invented” the church or the New Testament. One reason is that we can read people like Clement.

Why is Clement so important? He surely wrote his letter to Corinth before 140 AD and almost surely before 100To read Clement is to read a student of the students of Jesus! He says:

Has anyone, indeed, stayed with you without attesting the excellence and firmness of your faith? Without admiring your sensible and considerate Christian piety? Without broadcasting your spirit of unbounded hospitality? Without praising your perfect and trustworthy knowledge?

A good community has firm faith.

Clement is not asking the church simply to believe. He makes an argument and tries to persuade. He lists texts and examples to support his claim. This church leader understands that reasons and rhetoric correctly applied can produce a good Christian case. Hope is not enough, however good hope is.

We need faith and faith requires a more substantial hope either through reasons or experiences.

A good community has a sensible and considerate piety. 

I have met people who were very pious, but not very sensible. They kept making up new ways to do things (like courting) worse than the systems they replaced. Of course, piety without sense becomes the best sales pitch for impiety. Piety must be applied to circumstances. The moment this is done, we need sense to do so correctly. Doing the right thing badly makes other people hate the right thing!

Piety without consideration cannot let go of anything. We end up pursuing the thief of a loaf of bread decades after his crime.

A good community is hospitable. 

Christian homes begin in regeneration. The process never ends until the End of All Things. Hospitality is the service virtue renders the possibility of virtue. It is the Incarnation of hope with a party! We can initiate the great party that is to come.

A good community has perfect and trustworthy knowledge. 

The church needs investigators and thinkers. Sloppy thinking brings failure. Woe to the production team that gets to the end and discovers nothing in the film makes sense!

Yet more is needed.

I am not good at the key quality we need, you almost surely are not either: humility. Again Clement:

It is to the humble that Christ belongs, not to those who exalt themselves above his flock. 2The scepter of God’s majesty, the Lord Jesus Christ, did not come with the pomp of pride or arrogance, though he could have done so.

Too often we praise getting the answer right at the expense of relationships.  In In a Different Voice, Carol Gilligan showed that women in our culture had preserved and elevated the ethical value of harmony. Clement, though not a twentieth-century American woman, also valued the “different voice” of those who value unity and harmony. 

The difference is that Clement is more radical: he wished for a voluntary submission of individual voices to a community voice. Nobody is coerced. Everyone is free, but free people choose to be relational and rational.

This is a part of humility.

God, grant us humility in a healthy community.

Rachel Motte edited this essay.



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