(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)
4:06 PM Care to think about the church with me for a minute? My local church, like yours (probably), is constantly thinking about its ecclesiology. The main question — in my view, at least — is the degree to which our churches should be willing to adopt normative biblical principles and concepts that constitute the structure and life of the church. Questions include:
The level of involvement of the whole people of God in the life and witness of the church.
How leaders are to be chosen.
How “ordination” is understood and practiced.
The role of the “preacher” in the assembling of the church.
To people (like me) who deny a sacramental and sacerdotal priesthood, these questions are anything but theoretical. So here I offer a few random reflections. Feel free to respond on your blog.
1) The study of church history is absolutely vital if we are to return to biblical norms. For example, it was the Protestant Reformation that replaced the altar with the pulpit and the priest with the preacher. The New Testament, of course, sees the center of the gathering of the body as neither an altar nor a pulpit but a table. The apostolic church gathered explicitly to “break bread” (the telic infinitive; see Acts 20:7), not to listen passively to a sermon.
2) Moreover, the apostolic church was both a charismatic and Spirit-filled diakonia. Whatever organization there may have been in the early church, it existed in order to promote the proper and orderly interactions between the spiritual gifts (exercised freely). Ekklesia was a body of which Christ alone was the Head and in which each member was a fulltime minister-priest. After the third century, however, the charismatic ministry began to disappear and there arose in its place a hierarchical and institutional church. The stage was thus set for the spectatorism so evident in our churches today.
3) The New Testament believers did not have an abstract concept of the church but one that was dynamic and concrete. They saw it as their mission to manifest Christ to the world by becoming His representatives and by participating in His transforming of people’s lives. Energized by His Spirit, there were aflame for Him, and when they gathered, the members worked “together as a whole with all the members in sympathetic relationship with one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).
4) The church of the New Testament was nothing less than a partnership of grace in which every member had its function to fulfill, without jealousy or competition. Their gatherings were Christ-approved, Christ-centered, Christ-oriented, Christ-like, Christ-infused, Christ-exalting, and Christ-led. Remove Christ from the church and you might as well build a house on the sand (Matt. 7:24-27).
5) The Pastoral Epistles in particular need to be reevaluated. Neither Timothy nor Titus were pastors. They functioned as missionary-apostles and represented the church at large. Centuries later, the Anabaptists and other “radical” groups argued that the primitivism of the early church was normative in every age. The priesthood of believers was to be more than a dogma. They actually addressed each other as brothers and sisters. (Oh, how I wish we could do that today in our churches!). They insisted that Christ’s obedience to the Father should be exemplified in the life of every regenerate church member (Nachfolge-Christi).
6) Finally, ecclesiastical superstars didn’t exist. Pastors (i.e., shepherds) were also sheep. In fact, that was their primary identification. (Can you imagine if pastors today had secular jobs like everyone else and lived out in the world, as in New Testament times?)
So … where does my church, or yours, fit into all this? For starters, maybe we should reexamine our priorities when it comes to church finances. Any church building we construct must be purely functional in nature and should express a biblical understanding of the true nature of the church. Theologically, the church does not require a building. A church building has no more right to be called a “sanctuary” than a garage does. The body of Christ, the communion of believers, is the true tabernacle of God. Think and act this way today and you may well end up where the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century did — maligned or even persecuted. The need today is not to mimic the Anabaptists. The need is to renew our commitment to the New Testament Scriptures. Think of the followers of Zwingli in sixteenth-century Zurich. It was their allegiance to the New Testament (in Greek, by the way) that got them in so much trouble with their erstwhile teacher.
So the question is, “Is this pattern scriptural?” If not, a return to the New Testament may be the healthiest antidote to institutionalism.
P.S. I feel led to make an additional statement as a footnote. I know of many people who would never think of asking the church to help them pay for their summer vacation at Disneyworld or in Europe. Then why do so many of us automatically turn to the church to help pay (or even pay for entirely) the costs of our mission trips? I urge you to put aside money to that end, to even schedule your mission trip before you schedule your yearly vacation. If there’s any money left over, then you can enjoy Disneyworld or Paris. But please, plan ahead. Save if you can. Do not ask the church to do for you what you can (and perhaps ought to) do for yourself. Yes, it will take scrimping and saving. But the money is far better used in the Majority World than in paying for your airfare. I know not everyone can do this. But some can. Have you ever considered it?