Wednesday, September 27, 2006
WARNING! Radical Stuff!
I am presently reading two books that are talking about the nature of the church. Both are challenging most of the traditional thinking that drives our conclusions about what church is, and showing that most of it just doesn't come from the Bible. Yet even these radical books are not free from the temple/sanctuary paradigm that colors our conclusions. Our traditional view of "church" is so integrated into our culture, our history, and our thinking, that it may be impossible for large numbers of us to break free and see what the Word of God really teaches. I think it is one of the great paradoxes of Restoration promoters. Theoretically and philosophically we understand that "church" is any "called out" or "ekklesia" person. As a child of God, I am the church. When I'm with other Christians, we are the church assembled, but not any more THE church than when each of us are alone in our cars driving home. Every person from the Restoration heritage who has been in more than two Bible classes knows this and can give you the Greek word for church in their sleep. They've heard hundreds of sermons saying that "Church is not brick and mortar, but people who live for God!" Still, everyone, including the preachers who preached it, can not stop thinking of church as a structure, a building, a place to pilgrimage to three times a week (if you're faithful) and offer up one hour of "worship" to God, because it's the least you can do for Him after all He's done for you! What we know intellectually and biblically is disconnected from what we "feel" culturally. Because we start out with a time & place temple paradigm, we interpret scripture in the light of that paradigm. We don't read about New Testament Christians singing (Eph.5:19), we read about Christians establishing a pattern for "acts of worship" in the formal church service! We don't read about New Testament Christians using some simple elements of their meal together to remember Jesus, we see a sacrament, a religious ritual that is legally reserved for only a special place and time! And since "we are right," we couldn't possibly own up the the fact that we are more guided in our interpretation of the New Testament by a Catholic/cathedral heritage than we are by an honest Restoration heritage!
Let's go one step farther, not only is church not a building or a structure, it's not an organization or an institution. Every preacher used to be required to preach the "Three institutions of God" sermon. God gave the institutions of marriage, governments, and the church. Makes for a good three point sermon, but it's not taught in the Bible that way. Since when is a "body" an institution? Even if I give you the government as an institution, marriage is "one body"and nothing in any dictionary anywhere will equate "one body" with and institution. The church is not an institution for the same reason. We have to totally ignore God's metaphors in the New Testament. Have you ever thought about what it means for the church to be a body (1 Cor.12), the Bride of Christ (Eph.5), or the Family or household of God (1 Tim.3)? The church is not a business, a corporation, or a government with laws and charters. We are a living organism, a body, and a family! It's relational not institutional! We have had so many centuries of cathedrals, temples, sanctuaries, and church buildings that we can't see the simplicity of what God intended. Church is what we are - like worship! It means we belong to Him and are part of everyone else who belongs to Him. The church together, is not an institution, but simply a tool for building spiritual relationships, which is how we learn to love and serve Him. God knew we would need help as we sought to grow in godliness. In His tool box that gives us "all things that pertain to life and godliness"(2 Peter 1:3), relationships - Christian togetherness, is one of the tools He gave us to help make it happen. It's a tool, just like prayer, the Holy Spirit, the Lord's Supper, and several other awesome things He provided for our spiritual growth.
Bottom line: church is a tool for building spiritual relationships! How ironic is it that we usually don't have time for that on Sunday morning? Now read 1 John again and see if it doesn't make a whole lot more sense. If you're pushed for time, just read 1 John 3:23 and look at the only two things that John says are "His commands," and then explain why relationship building is optional or and extracurricular activity with most congregations!