This is my third and final installment for this series on the “Intentionality of God”. In this post I am going to get much more practical and to the point for the edification of the saints and the churches. If you have not already read parts 1 and 2 please do so by clicking here.
So first of all, let me share my initial motivation for writing this series.
There is an erroneous teaching that is currently circulating throughout the following expressions of the church: house church, simple church, missional church, organic church. All of these forms of church life share one thing in common; they have rejected the so called “institutional” forms of church. This means the most prevalent church structure that has dominated the western world for the last 17 centuries or so. I think it will become very clear to you why this erroneous teaching is becoming popular in some of these home churches who have rejected the traditional, institutional systems.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1)
I really don’t know what to call this current wave of false teachings. For the purpose of this blog post I am going to call it: “non-church” or perhaps “random-church”. Though, of course, the proponents of this teaching would not like that name at all!
From what I can gather, this idea has come from folks who have left the institutional church system and now have rejected ALL structure, ALL planning, ALL leadership, and ALL order altogether. It is definitely an over reaction to the religious system. To these folks, church is something that just happens. You happen to meet a friend at Starbucks who is a believer, you have some fellowship, that is “church”! You have a “network” of friends in this city and in that other area, and in another part of town, or perhaps at work. When you happen to be in that section of town you may visit with them … and that’s “church” as well! It’s a willy-nilly, random, meet-by-chance situation. There are no scheduled meetings. Everything is left “up in the air”, or they would say, “by the Spirit”. I have heard it said: “Well, if we all love Jesus then why do we have to plan, schedule meetings, and so on?” They will also say things such as: “Why do we need church planters when the church already exists?” “I’m the church, you’re the church, just be the church!”
Hopefully, this series of blog posts will irrevocably answer these questions.
The statements made above (and the like) reveal a mindset that is completely foreign to the New Testament. As you read the story of the New Testament (if you are open and honest about it) you will see local churches or bodies of believers that were committed to one another and completely attendable. In many instances Paul names people in the churches (see Romans 16; Philippians 4:2,22; Colossians 4:4-18; 1 Corinthians 16:15-19).
Now, let’s take a quick look at some clear and concise statements made in the scriptures about the Church of Jesus Christ. And then, we will test those “images” or types used by God himself.
- The Church is a Building (temple, house)
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
So, let’s approach these concepts with “if… then” statements:
If the church is a building… then it would require structure.
It’s very clear from Paul’s statement here (especially in Ephesians 2) that the church is built together as in a physical structure (temple). Everyone knows that without a purpose, plan (design), and an administration for that plan, you will never be able to build any kind of solid structure! Notice with me that Paul gets very explicit in using words like “fitted together” and “being built together” to show us God’s intentionality for the church. He actually “fits” the living stones together and into each other. This is not some vague “cosmic” idea of church, but rather a very practical building and setting of people together by God! He actually places the stones into the positions that He wants them. In another place Paul uses the phrase: “being knit together in love” (Col. 2:2) Now, I don’t know much about knitting, but I do know that in order to knit a sweater you need to have a pattern (design/plan) and some training on how to execute the pattern so that you end up with something that is both pleasing to the eye and functional (the expression).
How does the idea of “random church” fit into this?
- The Church is the Body of Christ
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)
“But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)
“Which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so adjusted (mingled, harmonized, and subtly proportioned the parts of) the whole body, giving the greater honor and richer endowment to the inferior parts which lack [apparent importance], so that there should be no division or discord or lack of adaptation [of the parts of the body to each other], but the members all alike should have a mutual interest in and care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the parts [share] the suffering; if one member is honored, all the members [share in] the enjoyment of it. Now you [collectively] are Christ’s body and [individually] you are members of it, each part severally and distinct [each with his own place and function].”
(1 Corinthians 12:24-27)
If the church is a body, then it would require structure.
The human body is made up of eleven major organ systems. These include: circulatory, respiratory, digestive, excretory, nervous, endocrine, immune, integumentary, skeletal, muscle, and reproductive. And this doesn’t even include microbiology! What about our 30 billion cells? What about our DNA? All of these systems work to do a very specific function and yet all work together to express the person who lives inside. What an incredible testimony to our intentional God! And Paul called the Church the Body of Christ!
How does the idea of “random church” fit into this?
- The Church is the Family of God
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:25-32)
If the church is a family, then it would require structure.
Obviously in any functional family there are certain requirements for it to meet in order for the family “life” to be expressed. There needs to be a father and a mother. They need to produce children. The parents need to manage the household so that the children are protected, taught, and raised to be decent adults.
“He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
Did you know that your God has an administration? He also has a purpose and a plan! Actually, the administration (or economy) is the working out of His plan or purpose. The purpose is to sum up all things in Christ! He is going to do this in and through His Church, His Building, His Body, His Bride, and His Family.
“To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,”
The Greek word for “administration” here literally means the economy of a household.
How does the idea of “random church” fit into this?
- The Church is the Community of God
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
If the church is a community, then it would require structure.
Mankind was originally created to be a corporate entity. That is, the image of the community life of God. God is a community of three Persons who are one. Each Person is distinct with their own characteristics and roles, but there is only ONE God. God spoke in the plural when he created man because he wanted man to be, live, and function as many persons who are one. Of course, we see this exemplified in John chapter 17. Is there relationship in this community? Is there structure in this community? Is there mutual submission and love in this community? Do the Father, Son, and Spirit meet randomly and without purpose?
Can you image if the community of the Godhead was run like a “random-church”? Wow! We would all be in a heap of trouble!
How does the idea of “random church” fit into this?
What About Meetings?
Should we have regularly scheduled meetings of the church? Is God concerned about the content and expression of our gatherings? Should we take the time and effort to actually plan before hand for the assembly? Should we spiritually prepare to bring our portion of Christ? Interestingly enough the word “church” (ekklesia) means the called out assembly. It was a secular word used for town meetings or assemblies. In a sense, Jesus told us that he would build his own “town meetings”! These town meetings happened on a regular basis in the first century and always had a plan and purpose. They were not random! Besides that, it absolutely amazes me when I read the amount of detail that Paul goes into when he describes a meeting of the whole church. Why not read it for yourself right now in 1 Corinthians 14? He gets into incredible detail about what should happen and what should not happen in a meeting of the saints. And then there is the clincher line at the end:
“let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40)
There is an order for every meeting! Did you know that?
Yes, God has a purpose, a plan, and an order for every single meeting of the church!
Now here is the BIG question:
How do we find out what His plan is for the church meetings, community life, work, seasons, and so on?
There is only one way… by seeking Him together!
The Headship of Christ can only be executed by the Body as we find His Mind together!
So we can see that God definitely does have a purpose, plan, design, and detailed execution of that plan for every local church. However, this requires the members of the Body to all seek God’s will (mind) together and then gather to make decisions according to His mind.
There are some definite conclusions we can arrive at about “random church” after considering all of the overwhelming evidence in Scripture and in God’s creation. Our God is definitely a purposeful planning God and the idea of a random church just doesn’t measure up at all to His nature or to His revelation found in the Bible.
In fact, this whole concept that is currently floating around those who have left the institutional church system is playing right into the hand of God’s enemy! It actually reeks of the “spirit of the age”. I would call this spirit and culture the “whatever” culture. There is no commitment, no responsibility, and no mutual submission. Just do whatever! Everyone is just too busy to actually spend the time required to be built together into a close knit community, house, body, bride, and family. After all, social networks of friends don’t interfere with your busy lifestyle. You don’t need to invest your life into others, just text them or Facebook them!
In other words:
The random church is a cross-less church!
The work of the cross in the life of believers is circumvented because they never have the opportunity and responsibility of laying down their lives for one another. And yet it is this very life of the cross that transforms us into spiritual people! (see the first letter to the carnal Corinthians) The idea of the random church is actually and totally of the flesh and from the evil one!
Brothers and sisters, can I make it any clearer?
How can our precious Lord ever get His expression with such a loosely-knit and cross-less people? Where are the believers who are totally sold out to Christ and his eternal purpose? Where are the “reckless” ones who will throw all caution to the wind and believe God and totally live for Him and His Kingdom?
The Bottom Line
It seems to me that most Christians want to jump from one extreme to another. First, we adopt hierarchical leadership forms and oppressive structures. Then, we jump to the other extreme of absolutely no structure, no planning, and then jump onto the random church bandwagon. When really the answer lies in the truth that our God is an intentional God who has an eternal purpose, and He has a plan and and administrative order to fulfill that plan. The Church is to be His expression (image) so shouldn’t we also be very purposeful?
But Here is the Key to it All:
That purpose, plan, and administration must all come from His very own Life!!!
The institution is a result of human life. The random church is a result of human life.
The true Church of Jesus Christ plans and functions only according to His Life. She executes decisions only by the Life of the Head according to His will. That only comes as we lose our own lives and come together to find His mind for the Church!
And I leave you with an excellent quote from T. Austin-Sparks:
From observation of the maladies which come upon the people of God and bring arrest to His work through them, we have been much impressed with the fact that the violation of a Divine order is the cause of much trouble. If it is true that what God is doing in this age is not just saving individuals as such but in constituting a “Body” and building a “House” by the addition of each saved one, then the right position in each is vital to its perfect functioning and its heavenly order. There is an order, and there is a position for each member. It is not given to us – let us say it with emphasis – it is not given to us to appoint the place or to manipulate into position. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. What we do say is that each member has his or her place and God knows what it is. Under the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit each member should come into that place. If they fail to do so or get into a wrong place, they fail in their essential ministry and upset the effectiveness of the Body.
“God hath set.” Articulation is essential to life. “Unto each is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph. 4:7).
“Having therefore, gifts differing according to grace” (Rom. 12:6).
There are not a few illustrations of dislocation and irregularity in the Scriptures:-
Dathan and Abiram and their company (Numbers 6).
Aaron and Miriam (Numbers 12).
Saul going over the head of Samuel (1 Sam. 13:9).
Uzziah presuming into the priest’s office (2 Chron. 26).
Paul has very much to say on matters of order in the Church, and it is not merely the individual position which is of importance, but the relative factor and element. Independent action is as dangerous as dislocation, it robs of covering and protection and exposes to enemy forces. There is a heavenly order, a spiritual system, and the relationships and ministries of believers are to be upon those spiritual principles and a reflection of that heavenly order.