What and who is the Church, and how is that identified?

My understanding of what the Church is, is, at least, a group of people which has a particular understanding of the way the world is organized and a corresponding understanding of the way that daily life should be conducted. The conducting of daily life (as in practice) will inherently reflect an understanding of the way life ought to be (as in an imaginative future oriented vision). The Church is eventually confident in its understanding of the world to the point which it advocates a particular practice and seeks to implement that practice (i.e. sacraments or liturgy).


I follow this up by then asking who is the Church practically speaking. Pragmatically, we have certain practices which are identified as practices which individuals belonging to the Church perform. We have a certain range of practices which we say come out of, correlate with, and reinforce our understanding of how the world is organized. This range of practices includes, among others: professing Christ, or self-identifying as a Christian, meeting with others who’s practices are in the same range, reading and being attentive to certain texts and authoritative people, being confident in a similar imaginatively constructed future oriented vision).


What happens then when individuals who have been identified as belonging to this group of people, begin to practice outside of the confines of that range which is understood to be the one which reflects the understanding of the groups shared vision of how life ought to be?


Either they are identified as no longer belonging to the group. Or, if those individuals remain as part of the group, the group’s understanding can be seen as one which is substantiated and reinforced by a wider, or shifted range of practices. The groups self-identified imaginative future oriented understanding of how life ought to be conducted is thereby promoting/condoning a wider range of practices.


If the later becomes the case, then we must begin to ask ourselves what takes primacy in determining who belongs to what we’re practically identifying as the Church (i.e. a social organization). Is it the practices which fall either inside or outside of the confines of those which are identified as reflective of the groups understanding, or is it merely an identification with the articulated understanding which the group advocates? (Presuppossing, of course, that these two are not mutually exclusive, as practice and understanding of how life ought to be are intrinsically connected. The question is which takes primacy in identifying an individual as either part of the group or not).


Finding a way to effectively articulate imaginative, future orientated visions, so as to encourage practices which reinforce them is eventually the task of anyone who leads.


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