The Once And Future Church

Churches (and what I mean by this is the local manifestation of the Universal Church but I’ll refer to them for now on as assemblies) have lost focus of the Gospel.No, I don’t mean that they don’t know what it is or that they’re preaching it or that they even support it: but it has become (to all these assemblies) the entrance into Salvation and that’s it. It becomes a talking point on how one assembly is Closer To It than the other or a banner which is waved: but it has been receded from being the very grounds on which the entire Church stands.

All of humanity stands before God’s wrath, mercy, love, judgment and righteousness on equal footing as having fallen short of His perfect glory. To all of humanity He has set up the cross with His own slain Son, dying as a satisfaction of God’s wrath, a demonstration of God’s love, a condemnation on Sin and an exemplification of God’s righteousness. Before all of humanity, God has robbed their authority by overruling the death of His Son, blackening humanities sin, underscoring God’s righteousness and pointing at the current judgment of the current ruler of the world.

As such, the people who should recognize all this the most are those who are In Christ. It is that community which exists and consists because Christ is its head, its source, its chief cornerstone, its Apostle and its High Priest.

This group should recognize how the individuals are not only individuals but part of the community and serving a specific purpose within that community and that community serving a specific purpose towards those individual. In that whole, Christians wind up being extremely necessary to one another. This is why Paul in Ephesians 4 can say that as Christ won the victory he gave gifts to men, not for themselves, but for the building and equipping of the entire Universal Church.

This is why within this group; Paul can call the removal from that group the “handing over to Satan”.  It’s within this group, the Body of the Church, that life is found—not outside of it. This is why this level of discipline is a catastrophic thing to the believer and to be done for the purpose of destroying the fleshiness of both the disciplined believer and the local assembly so that there is ultimate salvation. I’ll probably have to unpack that in another post if I’m pressed.

What I’m saying sounds a lot like what the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have long recognized. That life and blessings are found within the covenant community—within the boundaries of the ekklessia.

Therefore what I’m going to propose is going to sound a bit radical and likely impossible to implement with the way we have everything set up now. Now we have a system where everyone does Christianity on their own—but this has never been the case in the history of the Universal Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church acknowledges this, the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges this: but Protestants sit outside of this tradition stating their autonomy from all of it.

So if we recall the situation in 1 Corinthians 5 occurring today and getting to the point that the assembly decides to discipline the dude. The assembly kicks him out and what does he do? Well, he walks across the street to the Other Denomination and starts meeting there. Or better, he goes to another town and meets with the assembly there.

What I think we need is the assemblies to start talking together again realizing that they all stand on the Gospel. The assemblies in any given area should start investing in the Gospel and to stop focusing so intently on how they individually do Church. Stop worrying about the color of the carpets or the method of baptism but realize who we’re all baptized into.

Therefore, I envision the assemblies in a local area pooling their money together to train future teachers. When they do this they submit any of their future teachers to the training and this way they can guard against denominational slant but focus on some solid teaching. This way they can even hire teachers (from other assemblies) to take up some time in a locality going through specific training.

I envision the discipline from 1 Corinthians 5 actually working today. Where a group of churches speak to each other and can say “This person has been disciplined” and can even let the other churches know. I envision this person realizing that they are truly excommunicated and start to feel the real brunt of their sin in light of what the Gospel states and the future impending judgment.

I envision Christians loving one another across denominational lines and still maintaining the individuality of the assembly that allows conviction to flourish with a healthy amount of disagreement and loving respect. I envision Christians breaking bread together and then dipping into their collective pool of New Teachers to preach to their individual gatherings.

I envision a renewed interest in the Gospel tradition but done in such a way that unbelievers can see this network of assemblies and say “Now that is how a Human Community should look like!” I envision this news spreading and assemblies sending individuals across state lines to the Church in New York City or the Church in Charlotte.

Bottom Line: What we need is for assemblies to realize where they stand on the Gospel and from there begin a process of distinct yet corporate identity. A coalescing of autonomous churches belonging to a network of assemblies working together in any given locality in discipline, teaching, and building up the future generation in love and respect. It would take a ridiculous amount of work to implement, an absurd amount of likely hard theological shoulder rubbing,  but I think it would bring us back to a true original pattern of the local assembly found in the New Testament principles while simultaneously acknowledging the tradition of the Universal Church with a view to the future. It will be a reflection of the Gospel to the world.

More in this series.

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7 thoughts on “The Once And Future Church

My congregation won’t admit someone to membership without talking to their previous congregation to see if there’s an outstanding issue of inappropriate separation or church discipline. It would solve the problem if every congregation did that, and the more that do it the more effective church discipline will be.

@Jeremy Pierce: I think I’ve said it before whenever I hear about your congregation but it sounds like a blast of fresh air. That sort of thing is exactly what I would hope for in assemblies everywhere: a respect for the ruling of the church at large.

Rey: My church requires an interview with one of the pastors before membership is granted, and they discuss the person’s past church relationships and follow up on that.The problem we experience at our church, and many other churches, is convincing people of the importance of church membership.  This is especially true in our church, since about 1/3 of our congregation is made up of college students, who see our church as their church home during the school year and that’s it.

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