Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Church - Love It or...

I read a comment on another site a few days ago that got me thinking. In the comment, the person stated that they loved the church as a community, but very much disliked the church as an institution. I'm sure that this sentiment has some appeal to a lot of us, and actually took me back to an early period of my life as a believer in Christ where I probably would have said the same thing. In fact I basically did, to a number of people, including at least one pastor. All of us have to admit that we have had disappointments, discouragements and disillusionment with the church as an organization. It's much easier to love the church as the community of God's people than it is to love the church as an entity or an institution. But I had to ask myself - is this view Biblical?

The definition of the church in the New Testament is definitely one of a community. We see this lived out in the book of Acts, where the early believers shared their possessions, their worship and their very lives in common. They were a true worshipping community, meeting each other's needs, encouraging one another, teaching one another, praying together and glorifying God. This fits the repeated references to the church as the body of Christ, with each member fulfilling their role and being joined together with the other members of the body. The church as defined in the Bible is an organism, a living and active and growing body. And Jesus Christ is the Head of His body, the source of life, direction and headship authority.

But wait - did I just say authority? Hey, that sounds like leadership, like something institutional. Well, for good reason - because it is. If we accept that Christ is indeed the Head of the church, that in itself implies an authority and leadership structure. The New Testament church is shown repeatedly to not just be a community of believers, but an organizational entity with identifiable leadership, starting with Jesus and continuing down with pastors, elders, teachers, etc. In every church Paul planted, he established leaders and authority. Read Titus, 1st & 2nd Timothy, etc. Read the qualifications given for offices like elder. Reality is that the church by God's design is not just an organism, and not just an organization - it is both. And we are not being Biblically correct if we only accept one of these views. Embracing the church as only a community, or only as an organization, is incomplete.

I have to say that as I have grown as a Christian over the years (17 now) and as I have been involved in church leadership in various roles, my love for this complete view of the church has grown and matured. Even though I have seen the "dark side" of the church as an organization and as a community by serving as an elder (in more than one local body), I have also seen that this is God's plan for His people - to be organized as local congregations under the spiritual care and leadership and authority of a group of under-shepherds. To enable them to live out the life of the organism, the body of Christ. Imperfectly to be sure, sometimes grievously so. But living out the life of Christ as He empowers them.

I'd encourage each of us to cultivate this holistic and wholly Biblical view of the Body of Christ. It is natural to have a distaste for leadership and authority and institutions. But remember that as followers of Christ and members of His body, we are not to be natural - we are to be supernatural.

A New Blog...

I've decided to start up a new blog, in addition to the Xanga site I've been running for quite a while now. Xanga is too limited, and I'd like to branch out a bit more. So stay tuned for what I hope will be some posts that will challenge me and you to think and think Biblically.