While looking at the New Testament church I started off with a few basic assumptions (the church consists of people, the church’s existence is based on specific historical requirements and the church’s leadership, Christ, is divine). Flowing from these assumptions I pointed out a goal of the church tied directly to the purpose of the sent Holy Spirit (firstly to edify the church by teaching and comforting and secondly to convict the World of sin, righteousness and judgment).
As such, I specified seven markers which outlined the boundaries of the church: (1) the Lord’s Supper, (2) baptizing disciples, (3) loving one another, (4) disciplining its own members, (5) pure worship practices, (6) pure moral practice, (7) preaching the Word, (8) and leadership. The question now arises: can a church count as such if it fails in any of these eight boundary markers?
It’s an awful question. For example: how much can you take away from a Man before that Man stops being a Man?
If you start off with the idea that there’s specific aspects that define a Man as a Human Creature, taking away those aspects would result in objectification very quickly. You can see this sort of argumentation when it comes to the human fetus: “it” doesn’t have X human fundamental aspects and therefore is not a human, merely male animal.
But if you start with the idea that the Man’s human man-ness transcends those specific aspects (whatever those aspects may be) that define him as Man, you can have a long process of Aspect Removal without losing the transcendent identity.
Take a man and start by removing his arms; is he still a man? Of course, many would say. What if you emasculate him? Well then he’s still a man but a eunuch. What if you chop off his legs so that he’s merely a head and torso? Well then that’s a very crippled eunuch: but he’s still a man.
His Man-ness transcends the things that identify him as a man.
Transitioning over to the markers that define a church, with my assumptions still in place, “Church” is a transcendent identity. A church with these missing markers still count as a church but a horrifyingly crippled one.
But it gets even worst. Some seem to think, if the coming together is specifically for doing church then in this circle there is discipline, teaching, sacraments, etc. Others have drawn the lines sacramentaly, that this is the circle by which God communes with believing people and therefore in these specific sacramental gatherings, then the nature of church comes into play. Other groups say that since they are not a church they can meet together for specific purposes–like preaching the Gospel to college students.
The limitation winds up going down man-made ideological lines. Since X group believes the gathering is grounded in the sacraments, therefore gatherings outside of this circle are not part of the church. Since X people are not part of the membership here therefore they are not of us and we have no say in their dealings. Since Group Y is not defining itself as a church therefore it can do specific tasks without bothering with church-things.
Each of these illustrations confuses the nature of the church. It’s not a building, its made up of people. It’s not drawn along ideological man-made lines its leadership and direction is divine. Therefore, although it sometimes makes temporal sense to divide like this, it doesn’t justify it or make it any less crippled.
Parachurch organizations together for the gospel but completely ignoring the life of its members. Churches, focusing on whatever it is they do in their doctrinal lines, can discipline members who then run off to other churches and receive no discipline effectively having no real discipline.
The local manifestation of the universal church becomes at worst a horrid travesty, at best painfully injured.
Now just a quick few notes as to what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that God doesn’t use these churches and organizations. I’m not saying that these churches and organizations might as well close their doors. I’m not saying that we should all drop our doctrinal differences and get along. I’m identifying a major problem but I by no means have any major solutions–and in fact, all this is pretty brash. I’m sure I have to establish my thinking in regards to the inherit fault line in today’s local church. I’ll do that in the next posts.