My Church Post, Part II
All the church adjectives notwithstanding, there are but two kinds, in my estimation. One is what I would consider to be the essential church. By this I mean only those characteristics which make any assembly of people a distinctively Christian one, irrespective of dogma. In matters of doctrine, churches wildly diverge, but in matters of faith they should remain true (Ephesians 4:5). In fellowship they share a bond of responsibility and accountability. They are those called out of the world’s system, its ways, its methods and away from its devices. They are the “ecclesia”, who are called to assemble together unto God and their purpose is to glorify Him.
As for the other, there’s an imitation for every genuine article, though not every imitational church is necessarily a bad thing. Elements of the essential church can be found in an imitational setting, but imitational churches rely on form and hierarchy to be familiar and palatable, hence imitation. In agreeing with author Frank Viola, I believe the church shouldn’t be viewed as an organization but an organism. Organisms live and perpetuate life. Organizations exist to perpetuate the organization, and they stifle life. Imitation is defined as “the assumption of behavior observed in other individuals”. Church organizations imitate structures of human origin. The essential church is God originated, but has not the kind of delineation in scripture which organizations require. Certainly, as Viola point out, a typical contemporary church, an imitational church, would be unfamiliar to a first century Christian. There is very little given in scripture as a guide in defining or establishing church. This, I believe, is intentional as the Lord put believers at liberty in their expression. Imitation becomes a tool of convenience to promote order and uniformity, which church leaders mischaracterize as unity, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post. In an imitational church the focus is on the collective. Attention to individuals within an imitational church is used to provoke imitation of correct behaviour. Individuality is discouraged and sometimes upbraided. Church discipline becomes a measure of the collective good instead of fostering personal growth. Members are taught to submit, contribute in various ways to the whole church, and leave the spiritual guidance to the learned or spiritually experienced. In effect, they are kept immature. People in imitational churches mimic what other imitational churches do, though it may appear they embrace their own peculiar affectations.
Over the past several months I’ve visited several local churches and had the opportunity to consider each. By visit I mean attend one typical Sunday morning service. One such visit is but a cursory look, and it wouldn’t be fair to the people of these congregations to come away with a measure of their devotion to their faith, but I nonetheless found it interesting. In no particular order:
…to be continued in Part III