To structure or not to structure, that is the question
The people I mix with have got somewhat bored with, and no longer wish to think about or discuss church structure. That’s rather a shame as I believe it’s important and perhaps seminal to the current time and the cultural collapse.
If pressed into a debate they say that it doesn’t matter what form of ecclesiology the ‘local’ church takes as long as we love God. The problem I have with this train of thought, the sentiment of which I understand, is that tradition and form often has a huge molding effect on our thinking and thus our actions. And as we know, wrong thinking leads to wrong actions, and wrong principals to wrong values.
There are also those who constantly plead for a return to New Testament church practice, as if we know precisely how it was organised, and even if we did, are we going to avoid development and live in the past? A problem with this debate is that they don’t distinguish donkeys from Daimlers or a slave based structure from a democratic society. They also seem to overlook the problems experienced by the early church and its practices, much of the New Testament was written to correct such practices and problems.
As I often say to theology students, beavering away on their degrees, with ambitions to take up positions overseeing a local community following their graduation. ‘Hmmm… not quite sure your ideas would work out too smoothly in a church in ancient Corinth; I don’t think I would want to be a leader sorting out those crazy values.’ But idealistic students do tend to have this rosy view of what church life is like, and have very black and white answers on how to deal ‘theologically correctly’ with problems.
So we have this rejection of structure, and as I have stated above, I do have sympathy for this point of view when I see what some ‘structured churches’ are like, or what I would call organised religion, but I don’t believe it’s the structure that is at fault. As human beings we need structure and regularity in our lives even if it is only to remember a basic requirement like cleaning our teeth each day.
If you look at history in general and church history in particular you can see how it ebbs and flows, there will come a time of refreshment, increased knowledge of God, a renewing of horizontal and vertical relationships but then gradually man takes over and it solidifies, stultifies, settles and secularises. This says more about our sinful nature that seeks money, power and sex, than about the structure. Ultimately we can even end up allowing God’s power to corrupt us so that we rule and lord it over people, bringing them under our control rather than into God’s love and freedom. Eventually the organisation or denomination takes on a life of its own, often far removed from Godly values. Power rules and people ask the legitimate question ‘is this how a simple follower of Jesus would act?’
We need to remember the foundational building block which is, Jesus said, ‘I will build my church.’ Perhaps we think that as he has gone away that we should now take up the baton, and when we do that, what a mess we make. This is because we confuse the ‘church’ with the ‘kingdom’. God told us to seek the kingdom and he will build the church. The church is not the kingdom and the kingdom is not the church. The church should be seeking the kingdom, which is so much bigger than the church. We get sidetracked building the church, when actually we should be seeking the kingdom.
The challenge therefore is to be kingdom-minded; here are a couple of quotations which you may find helpful as you take up this challenge;
“The church gets into trouble whenever it thinks it is in the church business rather than the Kingdom business. In the church business, people are concerned with church activities, religious behavior and spiritual things. In the Kingdom business, people are concerned with Kingdom activities, all human behavior and everything God has made, visible and invisible. Church people think about how to get people into the church, kingdom people think about how to get the kingdom into the world.
Church people worry that the world might change the church, Kingdom people work to see the church change the world!” Howard Snyder.
“The Kingdom is a dynamic greater than the church. If you pursue the church you won’t find the Kingdom, but if you pursue the Kingdom you will find the church.” Simon Markham.
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