Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saving the Institutional Church

The Christian church is the assembly of all true believers in Christ and is Christ's body, through which He works to accomplish His purposes in the world (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:11-16; Romans 12:3-8). To accomplish these purposes, Christ commands His church to be organized (1 Corinthians 14:40; Hebrews 13:17; 10:24,25). This makes sense, as it is hard to accomplish anything in the world without being organized. But the organization is, not the church, but the expression of the church. It is like clothes to the body; clothes serve important functions with respect to the body. But it is the clothes that serve the body, not the body the clothes. Now one problem with organizations is that they can lose track of their original purpose and become focused on perpetuating the organization, or even on furthering the personal interests of its leaders and members. (It is difficult to distinguish between an organization and an institution. An institution is more of a fixed, basic component of society, and an organization becomes an institution when it reaches that status.)   Take government. It is supposed to exist to promote justice and the good of the people who are governed (Romans 13:1-7). But it can very easily be turned to support the perpetuation of its own power and structures. It can then come to serve the personal ambitions of the people in positions of power, even if they are against the interests of the nation as a whole. All organizations and institutions have this potential.

Now the purpose of the church organization is to accomplish God's purposes in the world, but it can too easily be sidetracked into perpetuating itself. Our goal should not be to try to figure out how to rescue or preserve the institutional church in a hostile environment. Rather, the body of Christ should consider how to how to carry out God's purpose in the world and how to organize to express that. This involves proclaiming God's message (Romans 10:14,15; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:23,24) and helping those who accept the message to live in light of it (Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 1:28,29; Titus 2:11-14). Involved in this is receiving the seals that openly set us apart as members of God's people (Acts 10:42-48; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Romans 4:11). Ultimately, this should lead to new believers taking their place as part of God's body to themselves be involved in carrying out God's purpose in the world (Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 2:19; 1 Peter 4:9-11). Then as we do what God would have us do, the organization will reflect the organism and the institution will reflect the organization. I am far from advocating nudism when it comes to the body of Christ, but the clothes should serve the purposes of the body and not the other way around.

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