Ecclesiology 2007

Theologically, on what should we be focusing in this seventh year of the 21st century? Previous generations gave their attention to such things as the trinity, biblical inspiration, and the dual natures of Christ. What should be at the top of our theological study agenda this year?

I am convinced that Ecclesiology should be our number one field of theological study. Ecclesiology is a catchall for all things pertaining to the church but what engages me most in these days is the nature and purpose of the church. George Barna’s research reveals that among the public there is a very high interest in Jesus but a low appreciation for the church. Why is this? This is a key question and we need to answer it.

I love the church. I resonate with Paul when he reminded the Elders of the church at Ephesus to be good ‘shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28b) If the church is so valuable to Jesus that he was prepared to die so that it could live, then why is it so undervalued by society? Could part of the reason be that we Christians have lost a sense of the nature and purpose of the church?

How does a non-disciple of the Lord Jesus view the church? I would think that most see the church as an organisation; an organisation such as a club, a benefit society, a religious business, or a charity. Yet the New Testament pictures the church as a household, a family, and a body. The key characteristic of a family is relationship, not organisation. A household needs to be organised so that it can function as an extended family. A body needs a skeleton so that it can hold together, but we do not define it in terms of its skeletal structure. An organisation uses its members to achieve its objectives but a church is the sum of its members. Yet, so often, the church, like a typical organisation, uses its members to fund and staff its programmes and projects. Now here’s the thing – people don’t like to be used; they like to belong, to be loved and accepted, to contribute… but they don’t like to be used. If society perceives the church as a user then it will have a low view of it.

I think the problem goes even deeper. Not only are most churches perceived as organisations, but they present themselves as localities. “Come with me to church” translates to “Come with me at a particular time to a particular building”. We go to the supermarket, we go to the cinema, we go to a restaurant, and we go to church. What then would someone expect when ‘going to church’? They would probably expect to buy something, to be entertained, or to be fed. Is this the purpose of the church; the church that God bought with his own blood? It seems that many church leaders think that it is! As a result the church tries to out-stock the supermarkets, out-entertain the cinemas, and out-serve the restaurants.

We need to rethink our doctrine of the church. Today’s young men and women don’t want a religious supermarket, cinema, or restaurant; they want a spiritual family. They don’t want to go to another place, they want to be disciples of the Lord Jesus. They don’t want to be used, they want to belong.

I can almost hear some readers muttering, “But the church exists to evangelise, and evangelism requires organisation, and a place, and structure”. Well I disagree on all counts. Jesus calls us to make disciples, not to evangelise. The church is a family that equips and supports us as we live, witness, minister, and make disciples. If discipleship starts with introducing people to Jesus and continues with helping them to nurture and reproduce that relationship, then why does it need programmes, training sessions, and organised ‘outreaches’? Of course, if we regard evangelism as selling something, or as teaching something, then we will see the overriding need for organisation, and enterprise, and a place to ‘do business’. But the church is neither a business nor a school; the church is the extended family of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You might not agree with what I have said about the church. I don’t ask for your agreement but I do plead for your attention. We MUST give serious and sustained attention to the doctrine of the church. If we do not then we should not be surprised if more and more people say “Jesus, yes, but the church, no!” However, if we seek God’s face concerning the nature and purpose of HIS church, then we could be the most desirable organism on the face of the earth!

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